Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice in Wonderland, A f*#king Mad Tea Party combines elements of burlesque, physical theatre, comedy and circus to explore the issue of mental health in a high-energy show which challenges audiences’ perceptions of “normal”.
Director and costume designer Timothy Christopher Ryan stars as the show’s host, The Mad Hatter, and his energetic performance left me questioning whether his character was completely insane or insanely brilliant. Ilana Charnelle Gelbart plays Alice, a petite young woman with a surprisingly powerful singing voice, and her haunting opening performance of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” perfectly sets the mood for the evening.
Jack Bennett is hilarious as the dormouse, while Ryan Lovat stars as the March Hare and Marjorie May Fair is the disturbing Red Queen, a clearly unstable woman whose personality constantly switches from one emotional extreme to the other.
There is plenty of audience participation as the characters duck and weave their way through the small room at The Elephant hotel – those in the front row may find themselves being sniffed by a cheeky white rabbit, sat on by a dormouse and enduring a shower of “tea” courtesy of the Mad Hatter.
The costumes are as diverse as the characters; my favourites are the burlesque-inspired red garments of the Queen and the delicately laced wings of the newly emerged butterfly. A meagre handful of props furnishes the small stage, but it is the actors who bring Wonderland to life with their enthusiastic performances and tightly choreographed routines which make the most of a tiny space.
Thought-provoking and reasonably priced, A F*#king Mad Tea Party takes audiences on a fun-filled journey into the realms of the impossible (but be warned, it does contain occasional coarse language and some nudity).
A F*#king Mad Tea Party is being performed at The Elephant – British Pub (Cinema Place) until February 20.
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