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Review of Alice At Wonderland from Open Stage Performing Arts at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I always try my very best to be positive about community shows as they form a perfect bridging gap between the very beginners and those of the professional world. Among these vast numbers (and in this show, there were roughly 170 performers in this epic), some on the stage you always feel sure has enough talent to take them to some success in the future.

So if all that hints that I didn't find Alice At Wonderland the greatest success ever, you would be quite right. However, fortunately, most of the blame doesn't lie with the performers, most are the fault of the script. While the premise of setting Alice in Wonderland during a festival called Wonderland (explaining the At of the title) is excellent, it drags the whole premise over an incredible and excruciating three-hour-plus production. Now, community shows are often long, it is to be expected as teacher and pupils alike need to have their turn on the stage, however creating one of such length doesn't really help anyone, certainly not the audience. Also, three hours plus wouldn't be so bad if the script was entertaining, sadly Alice is only very occasionally so and often verges into the territory of abysmal. Scenes go on too long, and most especially those featuring host Janet Smiley are cringe inducing.

However, between all this are the real gems of shows like this, the performers, and in this show, they are of one of the most diverse age spread you could imagine. From the tiny tots who get all the possible awws from the audience whenever they enter the stage, to seventy-year-olds and the choir. This is as all community stage school shows should be, fully inclusive and is at its very best when they are doing what they should, dancing and singing. It's perhaps true that there could have appeared a little more fun in some of the performers at times, and there were for whatever reason a few glum faces, and this doesn't include the few that were as always a little stage struck at being presented with a mass of a few hundred people looking on either.

The show itself was also sadly clearly victim to preparation time during the first of the two performances that I saw, with microphone and lighting cues missed, but all for a show like this fully understandable, and nothing at any point to criticise just mention. I know that there is never enough time to prepare these shows on the site and to be absolutely honest for a show of this scale it actually went extremely well.

Trying to pick our individual sequences during a show of this length is something that I wouldn't want to attempt. There were many good moments and a few less so, to be honest. However, there was one single section where I got what I really love from any theatre show, a genuinely surprising and in this case heart grabbing moment. It happened during the final part of the first half when the choir suddenly revealed themselves by standing up at various points in the stalls and began singing I Lived. Unexpected, thrilling and a single moment to almost make the whole show worthwhile.

So at the end of the show, I was as always happy to have attended. I love shows like this as you never know what to expect and who indeed you might be watching in their early days of development. This is often the place that performers of the future take their first steps, I only wish that the script had done all the young performers justice, as it was it was excellent in parts and pants in others. How is that for an expressive summing up!

Performance reviewed: Saturday, July 8th, 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton. Alice At Wonderland was performed on Saturday, July 8th, 2017 only at Royal & Derngate, Northampton. Details of Open Stage can be found at http://openstage.vpweb.co.uk/

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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