Monday, 9 June 2014

Alice Through the Looking Glass: Visually appealing but slightly hollow production

Alice Through The Looking Glass
Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre
By Lewis Carroll
Adapted for the stage by James Reaney
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (with one 20 minute interval)
April 30-October 12
Toll-free: 1.800.567.1600

STRATFORD – Perhaps it’s just the nature of the beast but the latest rendering of the magical riddle-laden Alice Through The Looking Glass comes off as both as a visually appealing but somewhat unfulfilling production.
Baffling at best, it certainly lays claim to some noteworthy achievements, most notably Jillian Keiley’s agreeably innovative direction, Danya Tekatch’s whimsical choreography and a handful of top flight performances including Brian Tree’s delightfully sarcastic Humpty Dumpty, Tom McCamus’ witty March Hare and Cynthia Dale beautifully over-the-top obsessive Red Queen.
Add to those theatrical ingredients, a sprinkling of clever musical numbers from Jonathan Monro and a handful of well-timed wonderful audience participatory elements highlighted by the airborne issuance of free jelly beans and you should have a winner.

Yet, while a magnificent sight for the eyes, sadly that is not the case. Outside of Dale’s marvelous Red Queen, the first act was often flat and tedious, seeming much longer than the one hour our watch informed us had passed by the interval. The quicker paced second act delivers the goods in more satisfactory fashion.
Newcomer Trish Lindstrom is agreeable as Alice, as she makes her initial journey through the looking glass into the strange new topsy-turvy world of odd characters, perplexing wordplay and the central symbol of the chess game, but with her stagey theatrical English accent and quirky almost lifeless hand movements, she’s very little more than that.
Her supporting cast fares better, beginning with the aforementioned Tree, McCamus and Dale. Ryan Wilkie is a memorably compassionate White Knight, Mike Nadajewski and Sanjay Talwar milk as many laughs as possible from the young audience members with their appropriately silly Tweedledee and Tweedledum and John Kirkpatrick handles his triple duties as Red Knight, Red King and Walrus with skill and charm.
There are plenty of grand and wondrous effects to keep even the most fidgety youngsters suitably entertained for more than two hours and all of them come off magically and without incident.
Even the most jaded will love the cascading bubbles, paper streamers and taking plants, animals and bugs and the clean-up of the remains of the late Humpty Dumpty with spatulas and over-sized frying pans is arguably the best scene in the production.
Yet beyond the dazzling visuals and Bretta Gerecke’s stellar designs, what else does Alice offer. One might expect considerably more attention being paid to the whimsical, often dark and complex work of Lewis Carroll, lovingly adapted for stage by James Reaney. Yet here, there’s a lot to see but little to think about.
While it is clearly a production more suited for children, Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderlandbrims with challenging metaphors and symbolism focusing on the chess game with its central character the main pawn – as opposed to the first book’s theme of a card game. There’s potential for more on stage but it just doesn’t happen.
Even from a young girl’s perspective of life, there seems to be much room for exploration and Reaney’s clever adaptation, which premiered at Stratford in 1994, offers many avenues to embark on that kind of journey.
Perhaps too much to ask for but with such a rich bounty of jokes, riddles and thought-provoking word games, this production seems to be teasing us with the thought that there is more to be had from such an intriguing literary work.
Nonetheless the youngsters and plenty of adults will get the proverbial charge from the sights and sounds of the lively production and the actors, particularly Tree, seem to be having the time of their lives, so worth a look.
3 1/2  / 5 stars
This review also appeared online at Donald's Dish.
Photos: 1. Trish Lindström as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass; 2. Cynthia Dale as the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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