Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

by Lynn on June 6, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Alice Through the Looking Glass

At the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Based on the book by Lewis Carroll
Adapted by James Reaney
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Designed by Bretta Gerecke
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Composed by Jonathan Monro
Sound by John Gzowski
Cynthia Dale
Dion Johnstone
Trish Lindström
Tom McCamus
Sarah Orenstein
Brian Tree
And many other talented people.

An eye-popping production of a beloved book that is really for the kid in adults more than it is for kids. Kids will love the jelly beans that float down from the ceiling and the general goofiness. A joy nonetheless.

The Story. This is Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. Alice, 7 ½ year-old is sent to the drawing room to improve her unacceptable behaviour. That doesn’t go down too well. She plays with her little kitty and talks of the Looking-Glass House on the other side of the mirror where everything is backwards. She is curious about the mirror above the fireplace and climbs up on the mantle and sees her reflection. She holds her book up to the mirror and sees that the reflection is indeed backwards. And like magic, Alice ‘falls’ through the mirror to the other side where everything is backwards, confused, whimsical and magical. It’s full of games, including one where she has to move to various squares and in the end she will be a queen. There is a Red Queen and a White Queen. There is an egg named Humpty Dumpty who is pompous and corrects Alice on her English and explains a bit of a tricky poem. And, yes, she does become a queen. Chess is such an equal opportunity game—you can start off a pawn and end up a queen.

The Production. Where to begin. The title of the play is written on the stage curtain, backwards. Let’s start with our guide to this bizarre backward land, Alice. As Alice, Trish Lindström is that most serious, curious, petulant, smart, commonsensical of 7 ½ year olds. The face is wide-eyed and inquisitive. Lindström never puts a wrong foot forward. It’s a true, honest performance that every kid, both young and old, will envy for its confidence.

She gets up on the mantle. Holds on to the mirror admiring her reflection. Then the mirror turns, with her holding on to it revealing Alice on the other side of the mirror as well. With a subtle light cue mirror changes from reflecting Alice’s actual reflection, to reflecting Alice’s double on the other side as the mirror turns and turns.

Our Alice falls into designer Bretta Gerecke’s dazzingly imagined world in which people travel by bicycle from one end of the stage to the other, with trees and branches growing out of the bike. Somebody roller skates. Flowers come to life. The Red Queen (Cynithia Dale) and the White Queen (Sarah Orenstein) swirl around Alice giving her advice.

There is a philosophising egg named Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a high wall enduring the questions of Alice below. He is played by Brian Tree, as dry-witted, droll and cantankerous. He falls off the wall, off stage—I would love to have seen that—a huge glop of wobbly egg is thrown out of the wings and lands, splat on the stage. Minions scurry up and cut the glop into smaller sizes and flop the glop into frying pans held by a phalanx of folks all holding frying pans. They then scurry into the wings.

At one point a parachutes holding a plastic figure and cellophane packages of jelly beans bubbles over the balcony onto the folks below. Screams of delight from the kids and the adults. These packages are also thrown into the audience by characters on stage. All that cellophane makes a loud crinkling noise that sounds like rain, which is perfect for the next scene, when it’s raining. Brilliant. The cast are delightful, and I love that every character in that show is kind to Alice, except Humpty Dumpty and he gets his.

Comment. In her program note, director Jillian Keiley says that this production of Alice Through the Looking Glasss will appeal to the inner 7 ½ year old in adults. The book has remained so popular because adults keep reading it ‘to explore the larger philosophies that Lewis Carroll offered in his stories.” Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino feels it is the whimsical, fun-filled production that will be the thing that captivates children and offers them a wonderful introduction to the theatre. There seems to be a disconnect of the intent between the director and the artistic director.

Both are right, but I think Keiley’s focus is more geared towards the adults with liberal nods to kids. It’s hard beating the glorious effect of seeing parachutes with jelly beans floating down. But I couldn’t help feel that for all the busy silliness that kids would love, this is a show for adults. The story is full of mind-twisting word games, intellectual gymnastics, visual puns and wit. For a show that will really cater to kids and get them hooked on theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the ticket.

Presented by the Stratford Festival in association with the National Arts Centre, Ottawa.

Opened: May 31, 2014
Closes: October 12, 2014
Cast: 21; 11 men, 10 women
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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