Review: Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular, Alice in Wonderland

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015, Richard Beeby and Courtney Yule.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015, Richard Beeby and Courtney Yule. - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis experiences the magic of the Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectactular

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Cara and Mia Dessaur.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Cara and Mia Dessaur. - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

“I loved all of it,” exclaimed my nine-year-old daughter Ella, who came with me to the final dress rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland – the Co-op Juniors’ 11th Christmas Spectacular.

This will be music to the ears of the 87 strong cast, who have been preparing the show (set once again in the acoustically wonderful Snape Maltings Concert Hall) since the beginning of September.

As the only members of the audience on this preview night we were in for a delight, full of magic, sparkle and song.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015. - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

An outstanding part of this amateur production was evident from the start. The Tim Burton-esque sets were incredibly effective and all the more impressive when you discover they were imagined by 22-year-old graduate Mali-Beth Roberts in her first gig out of uni.

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Working with an expert team of designers, dressers and technical whizz Alan Ayres, Mali-Beth’s vision of a mysterious underground world of enormous twisted fairytale trees, psychedelic toadstools and other visual treats was the ideal canvas for this retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic.

After a brief ensemble piece to start the show, Alice was soon tumbled through what’s probably the UK’s biggest book, down the rabbit hole and into a curious world that defies imagination.

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Alice was engaging, bright and strong throughout and it’s hard to believe that Courtney Yule is just 12. Her clear, confident performance, pitch-perfect singing and faultless dancing from start to finish were executed with utter professionalism.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015 Courtney Yule and William Ford.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015 Courtney Yule and William Ford. - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Praise must go too to Knave of Hearts Karl Lankester who also held his own.

We were spellbound by the beautiful rendition of Pure Imagination (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) lit by the aura of a ‘supermoon’.

And we thought musical director Nigel Virley’s toe-tapping Wonderland arrangement was great.

White rabbit Richard Beeby and Mad Hatter Thomas Haigh were brilliant from start to finish, staying in character even when the spotlight wasn’t on them.

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015

Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular 2015 - Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Queen of Hearts Peter Ling managed to stay aloft of his Segway as he glided venomously across the stage and held a strong stage presence. And comic value was added by Tweedledee Cara Dessaur and Tweedledum Mia Dessaur.

Lead choreographer Luke Cattermole had a big challenge on his hands, with the team overseeing many, many dance routines – several of them including dozens of teeny tots.

While there were a few slip-ups here and there, these are to be forgiven from such a young collaborative and I found all the little characters so so charming.

The youngest of the cast were just lovely in their medley of nursery rhymes with accompanying costumes and props (including an enormous pie) and you could see the concentration and pride on their little faces.

It took a while to get the Duchess’s kitchen set on stage due to a technical glitch, but that was soon forgotten as soon as Lizzie Tyte got underway with her witty dialogue, cradling what must be the ugliest doll baby in history. Lizzie was spot-on with her timing and brought a great deal to the production.

There was more magic in the appearance of an oversized mushroom topped by Caterpillar William Ford, the mystical mirror containing Cheshire Cat Ben Kearney, and the jaw-droppingly tasty-looking Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which appeared from nowhere.

In the second act, after Alice duelled with the Queen of Hearts in a game of flamingo croquet, there were some excellent dance routines including a jitterbug line-up from some of the older girls which showed how simple moves and costume can be used to great effect.

Alice wound-up the show with a crisp, rousing solo performed on spot, before a closing selection of festive hits filled the auditorium with Christmas joy.

If you’re not quite in the seasonal mindset yet and want to experience that warm, fuzzy glow, this popular annual extravaganza of over 20 songs and at least five types of dance definitely fits the bill.

Alice in Wonderland runs until Sunday, December 13 at Snape Maltings Concert Hall (no performances Monday, Tuesday or Thursday). Tickets start at £12 with group offers available. Call 01728 687110 to book.

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