Alice in Wonderland is the production of Brighton’s Alternative Adult Pantomime founded by the late Brian Ralfe in 2002 who passed away in March of this year. It’s best described as gay burlesque. It’s a trip through Pantoland with most of the well known characters – Cinderella, Captain Hook, the Empress of China, The ugly sister, Prince Charming and Dick Whittington all played by the male troupe with high camp.
Principal Dame and a few other roles were played by Lee Tracey. There were various references by the cast to gin in his dressing room and both my friend who invited me and myself did genuinely wonder if he had one too many. At one stage he fluffed his lines with “Passover” rather than”bend over” and made a reference to being Jewish to get him out of it. I had not heard of him but the slim programme notes said he had been a comedian of note in the 70s and 80s. There was much use of the F word. I do not find the use of this transforms an unfunny line into a funny one.
Prince Charming played by Russell Keith who was in the Jersey Boys could deliver a number with force and panache whilst Lascal Wood, a finalist in The X Factor was a slender and sinuous dancer. I could not perceive much other talent on view and the script tended to the vulgar with the inevitable lewd references to Dick as in Whittington. It also lacked one of the ingredients of panto, children. Bob Tickler was saying that his enjoyment of panto is wholly vicarious through seven year old Jamie on the edge of his seat bawling out “Oh no he isn’t”.
There is noble theatrical tradition of gender impersonation: in Tudor times the Shakespearean woman roles were often played by men; in the music hall there was Burlington Bertie played by a woman; Danny La Rue and Barry Humphries had successful careers playing women. Sadly this did not contribute to this tradition. British humour too encompasses high camp, think of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey in the Carry On films and the many hilarious gay comics. This material was not up to their standard nor the delivery.
Audience reaction is always interesting and revealing especially so in panto which is so interactive. My friend’s daughter said she heard one member of the audience reply to the question “Which part did you enjoy the best?” with “the End”.