By Sofia Brizio
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Alice in Wonderland is one of those classics I love going back to from time to time, be it by reading the book, watching Disney’s cartoon or Tim Burton’s films. So, of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to review ‘The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense’, a re-imagined version of Lewis Carroll’s classic by Hijinx Odyssey. I think I speak for everyone in the audience when I say it was one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen this year. Crazy, over-the-top, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-warming, this is not a show you’ll easily forget.
I have been following Hijinx productions for about a year and a half now, since I wrote an article about their 2018 project in Lesotho, Able to Act, but I had never had the chance to see one, so I jumped at this opportunity. Hijinx are a professional theatre company based in Cardiff, working mainly with people who have learning and sometimes physical disabilities, along with non-disabled performers. They train professional actors through academies all across Wales. They are making important steps for the inclusion and representation of disabled people in theatre, and I can confidently say ‘The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense’ was the most inclusive play I have ever seen.
This creative and innovative version of Alice in Wonderland, written by Hefin Robinson, presents us with an extremely Welsh Alys (yes, with a Y) who is tired of being treated like a child, and therefore escapes down the rabbit hole to discover the magic of Wonderland. It is, however, an entirely different Wonderland than the one we might be used to. Here, the Queen of Hearts is no longer in charge: she was called out as the bully that she is, which left her croquet bat, ball and play cards without jobs. And so they protest, to the rallying cry “We want job’s now in a minute”. They are then arrested and brought to court not for protesting, but for the use of an illogical apostrophe (yes, that apostrophe above is not a typo), as one would of course expect in Wonderland.
In the meantime, Alys meets Dum, whom she helps to find her lost twin Dee, living countless adventures in the process. On her journey to the Forest of Lost Things, where she’ll find Dee, she bumps into the caterpillar who is a rock star, a hilarious Cheshire cat and a scary monster who lives in the Forest, who is seemingly evil but really just wants to be loved. Her cat, Dinah, is always by her side, translating the whole performance into BSL. This is a detail I particularly enjoyed about the production, as it is not common to see BSL interpreters as active characters in a play, and it really was a wonderful addition which made ‘The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense’ even more memorable.
Sara Pickard (playing Alys) performed skilfully at all times and I really couldn’t get enough of her naughty Alys running around on stage. The Queen of Hearts and the Duke were also characters that shone bright under the spotlight, and the ‘Tart off’ contest absolutely made my night. All the actors were engaging, talented, and kept me laughing until I cried all the way through. Most importantly, they showed how there really is a place for everyone on the stage, and it doesn’t matter whether you stand on two legs or four wheels.
‘The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense’ throws you into a brand new world where nothing makes sense and yet everything clicks perfectly into place; where up is down, left is right and there’s no black or white. The play is full of surprises from start to finish, beginning with the set, made of all sorts of things (even tables and chairs!) hanging from the ceiling. Moreover, the audience got to play a part in the performance, deciding whether the protesters should be declared guilty or innocent, among other things. I, for one, was taken aback when the White Rabbit himself climbed up next to my seat to ask me whether I had perhaps seen his watch, and I felt truly sorry to see the sad look on his face when I replied that no, I hadn’t seen it.
Finally, music was also an integral part of the play and, I’d say, the icing on the cake. The original, catchy songs had me singing long after the end of the show.
Tonight’s the last chance to see the show and tickets are sold out. For the lucky few who managed to grab the last seats, I can guarantee it’s going to be an unforgettable evening. Get ready to meet the most wonderful characters you could ever imagine and, most of all, have the time of your life. This show really is a load of nonsense in the best possible way, and I would give anything to watch it time and time again.