Alice is a tall tale, often told. Lewis Carroll's surreal plot lends itself to the suspension of belief that puppetry requires, especially hand puppetry, when the puppeteers are very visible on stage. This version is the Little Angel Theatre's Christmas show, playing at child-friendly times until the end of the month.
Some of the creatures in the production are brilliant. The stressed White Rabbit fizzes with time-pressed agitation as he darts through black space, sculpted legs pumping. The Mad Hatter is himself a puppeteer, operating an opinionated dormouse glove puppet with aplomb. The Queen of Hearts, with angular body and playing card printed dress, is a joy to watch looming large in the rose garden, screeching "off with her head". A flying fish envelope swims through thin air making cutting remarks. Houses grow legs and dance.
While we enjoyed the puppets, they didn't quite manage to transport us to an underground wonderland. The play felt like a series of odd episodes in a sparse, flat landscape, rather than something more cohesive. The puppets were handsome and well handled, but there wasn't a point when we were so gripped by the adventure that the puppeteers melted away and the characters truly came to life.
The happy murmurs coming from the younger members of the audience showed they were enjoying it, but older onlookers might be left less satisfied. We had high hopes of some Saturday afternoon enchantment, despite our age, but the play didn't quite convince us.
It's impossible, however, not to feel excited when entering the tiny world of the Little Angel. Down a narrow passageway, hidden in leafy Islington back streets, sits the minute but magical home of British puppetry. The visitor, no matter how aged, can't help spending time peering into the dreamy old workshop that is hung about with puppet parts. A visit is a must, but Alice is perhaps one for the kids. If you have one to take, the play runs until 30 January.
Little Angel Theatre, 14 Dagmar Passage, N1 2DN / www.littleangeltheatre.com