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Musical: Alice in Funderland at the Abbey theatre, Dublin

Lean back, close your eyes, and think of an alternative universe where the usual rules are thrown out the window.

One in which, just say, the stage of the National Theatre is taken over by leather-faced drag queens in giant crinoline skirts and broken-hearted gay lovers about to roller-skate off the top of Liberty Hall.

Plus, they sing. Constantly. Under spinning disco balls. And -- since usual rules no longer apply -- it's the most fun to be had in an Irish theatre since the Spiegeltent left the Fringe Festival.

On paper, it's a simple retelling. Alice (Sarah Greene), a young woman from Cork, is fighting with her parents and sister, who's about to get married. On the hen night, Alice finds herself in the chaotic dreamworld that is Dublin nightlife: enthralling and threatening in equal measure. Instead of chasing the White Rabbit down a hole, she snogs a guy in a nightclub and chases him back to the fictional northside suburb of Hartstown.

Creator Philip McMahon stays true to Carroll's cast: the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, even the hookah-smoking caterpillar take on wonderful incarnations like a gospel-singer in an emerald-green lounge suit and a stoned republican taxi driver. Of course, there's the (drag) Queen of Hearts (Tony Flynn), Alice's nemesis as the plot winds towards its endgame. Director Wayne Jordan and choreographer Liz Roche generally ensure the action stays tightly focused.

Musical versions of Lewis Carroll's novel aren't new. The first appeared in 1886; Tom Waits recorded his album version in 2002; an Alice ballet is running in London right now. But it's hard to imagine that any other interpretation smashed so many social taboos and indulged in such joyous vulgarity.

McMahon's book serves up jaw-dropping moments of political incorrectness, covering race, sexuality, class, gender, you name it. The result is joyously crude, smart, and sexy. It's far from perfect -- there are some weak performances, and the show notably loses steam in the second act. Yet it's still the must-see theatre event of the year so far.

Thankfully, just about every song in Raymond Scannell's score is good enough to hum along with, and Greene delivers a stunning vocal performance as Alice. McMahon & company apparently took four years to pull this show together. Hopefully we won't have to wait so long for the next one.

Irish Independent