Review: Alice in Wonderland

by Lynn on April 8, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

By Lewis Carroll

Adapted by Fiona Sauder for Bad Hats

Directed by Sue Miner

Musical director, Reza Jacobs

Co-composed by Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko

Choreographed by Cameron Carver

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Costume Designer, Ming Wong

Cast: Tess Benger

Landon Doak

Phoebe Hu

Richard Lam

Jacob MacInnis

Matt Pilipiak

Fiona Sauder

Vanessa Sears

Jonathan Tan

Delightful, pointed, of our world and embracing of difference.

NOTE:  Because the rules for theatre performance and streaming seem to change instantly, Bad Hats Theatre had to shift to filming Alice in Wonderland and not live streaming it. The company observed all sorts of health protocols to be safe.  Distances were established between actors and moveable plexiglass frames separated actors. If actors were already in their own bubble then they could act with a partner without a separation.  Those are the logistics.

CURIOUS NOTE: I found it interesting (puzzling??) that Lewis Carroll’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the program or the added activity book as the ‘author’ of the original Alice story. Fiona Sauder is noted as the ‘adaptor’ but not mentioned is the source material she adapted. Curious. The Program title only lists “Bad Hats’ Alice in Wonderland. Ok, perhaps it’s because Lewis Carroll never wrote something called Alice in Wonderland. He in fact wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Is this hair-splitting, or what? (and with no hair cuts we have a lot of hairs to split.) OK, I’m giving credit below where it’s due.

The Story. Lewis Carrol’s beloved, whimsical classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been adapted and created for our contemporary times by Fiona Sauder, the Artistic Director of Bad Hats Theatre. The result is Alice in Wonderland, a filmed family musical, presented by Soulpepper.

The whimsy is still there but it also reflects many of the changes in our world that have happened over the time of the pandemic and before; I’m thinking of Black Lives Matter and gender fluidity and how one acknowledges that.

In this version, Alice is a precocious young girl who is endlessly curious and inquisitive. She asks questions about everything in her class of young kids. Her teacher, Mr. Charles has to remind her that that particular day they are only focusing on answers, not questions. Alice is still not satisfied and when she persists in asking more questions, Mr. Charles moves Alice’s desk  away from the other kids so she won’t be so disruptive. But we get the measure of Alice’s imagination and curiosity when she looks out the window and sees clouds and imagines they look like animals.  Which leads her to imagine a rabbit which then sends her down the rabbit hole and into a different world.

It is basically the same once we get into wonderland. We have the Mad Rabbit who is always late, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. But in this version Alice’s real life in her class with her school friends melds into her imagined adventures in Wonderland. For example, Mr. Charles is the harried teacher trying to keep order especially with Alice. He becomes the Rabbit who is late. Alice’s classmates become other characters. Ruby, the smartest, most eager kid in the class becomes the confident, imperious Red Queen.

The character of the Cheshire Cat seems to have been roaming in that classroom before Alice transitioned—so maybe the cat was the class pet? Curious? Alice still has to negotiate Wonderland: to find her way along eight squares and then earn the right to be the Queen.  She was coached along the way of the many riddles by Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

And it’s a musical.  This company is so gifted with imagination and talent. (They did a splendid version of Peter Pan a few years ago for Soulpepper).  Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko co-composed the show and it’s full of wit, an intoxicating score and lyrics that reflect the upheaval in this wonderland as well as in the real world. And Fiola Sauder’s adaptation also reflects that juxtaposition between both worlds.

The Red Queen as played fearlessly by Vanessa Sears, instills the Red Queen with whole lot of confidence. At one point the Red Queen is instructing Alice on the rules and how to be a Queen.

So she sings about taking charge:

“So you think you wanna ba a Queen…

You gotta work the system, play within it

Words of wisdom work within em’

Wait to finish, don’t diminish

You’ll need a whole lot of nerve….

Take what you earn, don’t brake and don’t burn

They want service…

From fist’ll just make em  nervous

When they get nervous they wanna hurt us

Take back our space like we don’t deserve trust.

Gotta be cool. Gotta be cool. These are the Queen’s rules.”

The lyrics initially speak to being confident but then they get more pointed and seem to be subtly referring to something deeper—that reference to “When they get nervous they wanna hurt us, take back our space like we don’t deserve trust” is going into a whole deeper area reflected by this Queen.

Vanessa Sears is a powerhouse singer/actress. She is also Black. I think those lyrics are referencing Black Lives Matter and the issues that have been brought up this past year. Taking their place, their space and to be seen. Powerful.

The Red Queen says that Alice can be a Queen. But the way that Vanessa Sears plays the Red Queen is full of confidence, maturity and wisdom of a certain world that Alice doesn’t know about. And Tess Benger plays Alice as innocent, precocious and experiences a different world from this particular Red Queen. I loved the juxtaposition.

At another point in the show, there is a fuzzy caterpillar that envelopes itself in a cape-like cocoon. A question is asked:  “what happens to the caterpillar?” And the answer is: “They became a butterfly.” The character of the caterpillar is played by Jacob MacInnis who uses the pronoun “they” as one of their pronouns.  Writer Fiona Sauder goes deeper into the rabbit hole of Alice in Wonderland to reflect the changing world we all live in now. I think that’s terrific.

Matt Pilipiak plays Mr. Charles as an engaging if harried teacher, and is an anxious, but endearing Rabbit who always feels he’s late. As the Cheshire Cat, who is both in the classroom and in Wonderland, Jonathan Tan is a poem of grace and kindness to Alice and the smile is never overplayed.

Sue Miner has directed this with an intoxicating whimsy. Desks are moved and frames are used to change scenes and reflect a reflective world. And with endless imagination Sue Miner as the director, and Robert Metcalfe and Links Live Media use simple film techniques to suggest Alice is growing or diminishing is size.

To suggest Alice is growing, the camera angle shoots ‘up’ with Alice’s head out of the frame because it can’t contain her whole body. To suggest she is smaller Alice is filed from above, downward thus making her look small. There are other shots with other characters up stage and in perspective that give off different effects in size. Clever.

This is a dandy production of Alice in Wonderland from Bad Hats that reflects our changing world, and will appeal to families on many levels.

Alice in Wonderland can be seen until April 18, 2021 at:

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.