Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: (Stratford / Theatre) Alice Through the Looking Glass

(photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)
Everything Is Backwards! (Just As It Should Be!)
Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass World comes to life in Stratford
by Stuart Munro

Bubbles! Bicycles! Jellybeans from the sky! MORE bubbles! Stratford’s new production of Alice Through the Looking Glass has all of this, and then some. This version of Lewis Carroll’s famous book, adapted by Canadian playwright James Reaney, was commissioned by the festival in 1994 and revived two years later. Like its predecessor, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass can suffer from an episodic structure which makes it difficult to adapt to the stage. But Reaney has handled this fact very well with his version, and as directed by Jillian Keiley (Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre), Through the Looking Glass is a wild and zany romp which easily kept the entire audience, young and old, happily entertained.

As Alice, Trish Lindström has a wonderful, youthful and spritely energy that keeps the audience engaged with her from start to finish. This kind of likeability is absolutely crucial, as Lindström never leaves the stage. She is a pleasure to watch. The large cast of characters around her are all brilliant in their own right, but Brian Tree’s Humpty Dumpty (ably assisted by Tom McCamus and Sarah Afful as his arms) and Rylan Wilkie’s White Knight are among the many standouts. Everyone in this madcap production has found that essential balance that absurd theatre such as this so desperately needs to work properly.

Designer Bretta Gerecke’s costumes very cleverly have all the ensemble members, male and female, in mirrored versions of Alice’s beautiful white and blue dress; and the animal characters are (thankfully) in smart suits with hilarious headdresses to suggest the creature they’re playing. Her set design – a series of gorgeous, rich red curtains, a stage and slide (appropriately) decorated as a giant chessboard, a million bicycles with interchangeable scenic elements, and inflatable horsies (honestly. They’re amazing) – all helped to convey the absolutely stunning and eccentric world through the looking glass. The original music by Jonathan Monro acts as a delightful, magical soundscape, and adds a number of charming songs to the production.

Director Keiley has carefully managed all these wild elements into a production that is remarkably cohesive. There is more than enough here to keep young children wildly entertained, but I heard just as many “Ooos” and “Ahhs” coming from the adults in the audience (myself included). This Alice is sure to be a crowd pleasure for the whole family.

April 30 - October 12

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