Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: (Toronto) Alice in Wonderland: A Tale with No Porpoise

A Production With No Purpose
No Porpoise Productions: A rough start for a new company
by Stuart Munro

No Porpoise Productions’ first offering to Toronto audiences is a new adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland. The company’s mandate is simple – to make silly and ridiculous theatre that is also good theatre. But despite the valiant efforts of a talented cast, all of whom are playing half a dozen roles, this Alice in Wonderland: A Tale with No Porpoise quickly descends from the sublimely absurd to the ridiculously inept.

Things start off well enough. As the narrator, playwright Katie Leamen provides an appropriately English setting of the scene which is comically interrupted by a cast member informing her that “it’s only a ninety-minute show. If they want it word for word, they can read the book.” Some clever staging for Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole left me feeling confident that the direction would be innovative enough to fill the large black-box space.

Sadly, this was not the case.

Despite a few moments of cleverness (the Caterpillar as well as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party stand out), this production has a bit of a rag-tag feel about it that is too disorganized to even feel quaintly homemade. The pacing from co-directors Lynne Griffin and Sean Sullivan often lags, especially in the second half. This half is primarily the Queen of Heart’s Trial, which quickly devolves into a screaming match in which our heroine, Alice, sits off to the side saying nearly nothing. I think the intention of this scene was to showcase the cast’s ability to switch back and forth between characters at intense speeds. But despite their skill, the resulting staging lacks the grace required for this to be effective . . . or even entertaining. Combined with some rough lighting and a confused soundscape (I understand the Mario Brothers effect when Alice grows and shrinks . . . but no), the entire production is too confused to even be absurd.

It’s not entirely Griffin and Sullivan’s fault. Any adaptation of Alice I’ve seen suffers from the same issue – the episodic nature of the source material, and Leamen’s script doesn’t do enough to streamline the process. Even knowing the story well, I too often found myself wondering what exactly was happening, or why it was happening.

To give credit where credit is due, there are some strong comedic actors on this stage. Chris George’s White Rabbit was endearing and loveable; Carolyn Lawrence made several memorable moments out of Bill the Lizard and the Caterpillar; Mark Palumbo’s Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat were easily highlights of the evening, and as Tweedledee, his physical interaction with Katie Leamen’s equally hilarious Tweedledum more than impressed me. Sadly, Lindsay Sippel Eitzen’s stilted portrayal of Alice, and Natalie Morgan’s needlessly cringeingly loud Queen of Hearts failed to keep up with the energy of those around them.

There were issues outside the theatre as well. When I arrived to pick up my tickets, I was promptly ignored by both people at the table, including director Griffin. A full five minutes passed before I’d finally had enough and interjected into the goings on around me.

Any new company has a rough road ahead of it in trying to make a name for itself in Toronto’s vibrant theatre community. Perhaps with a serious rethink of the kinds of stories they want to tell and company they want to run, No Porpoise Productions can add its name to the list of companies to watch out for. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything last night to show me this could happen.

Feb. 12 - 16

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