Photo, left to right - Sanjay Talwar, Trish Lindström and Mike Nadajewski
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll, adapted by James Reaney (Stratford Festival/Schulich Children’s Plays/National Arts Centre). At the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to October 12. $50-$135, stu/srs $20-$67. 1-800-567-1600, stratfordfestival.ca. See listing. Rating: NNNN
If you want to turn loose the child inside you and let it play, catch Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass, adapted by Canadian playwright James Reaney.
This is the third time the script's had a staging at Stratford, following two productions in the 1990s, and it's the best of the lot.
Credit not only the story but also the collaboration between director Jillian Keiley and designer Bretta Gerecke, along with a cast that clearly delights in revving up the show's fun, for the smile that'll be on your face from beginning to end.
You know the story but maybe not recall all its details. This isn't Alice In Wonderland - there's no white rabbit, no Eat Me cakes or Drink Me potions - but rather Alice's trip through her living room looking glass to a mirror-image world populated by living chess pieces, goats, gnats, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Walrus and the Carpenter.
Trish Lindström makes a perfect Alice, wide-eyed, curious and eager to become part of this alternate world by being crowned when she works her way across the chessboard set. One of the problems with Reaney's script, though, is that once the action is set in motion Alice often takes a back seat to the extraordinary characters she encounters.
But you won't forget that Alice is the central figure in the tale; there are representations of her throughout the show, mirror-reversed, of course. The blonde Alice wears a white smock with light blue images on it, her many black-haired doubles (at some point, every cast member becomes a double for Alice) are in dark blue smocks with white images. The mirroring begins even before you set foot in the theatre; hang around on the sidewalk and you might see an Alice driving by on a bicycle.
Gerecke uses that bicycle motif throughout the show, and her imaginative mirror world is delightful. Giant flowers, a talkative gnat (the endearing Elliott Loran), look-alikes Tweedledum (Mike Nadajewski) and Tweedledee (Sanjay Talwar) and the philosophical, grumbling Humpty Dumpty (Brian Tree), whose huge blue arms are worked by other cast members are only some of show's pleasures.
Using a touch of music hall, a bit of barbershop quartet and some magicians' tricks, Keiley nicely underlines the tale's punning text, metaphysical questions and twisted logic. Though some sections are needlessly long, especially in the occasionally inflated second act, Keiley and Gerecke's invention always pulls us back into the tale. Wait for the aftermath of Humpty Dumpty's fall, for instance, or the pandemonium following the fighting match between the Lion (Tyrone Savage) and the Unicorn (Gareth Potter), in which packages of jelly-beans are fired out into the audience.
There's fine work by the cast, notably Tree's self-impressed egg, Cynthia Dale's imperious Red Queen, a real but never nasty diva, Sarah Orenstein's dithering White Queen, Rylan Wilkie's charmingly inept White Knight, Kevin Bundy's tea-sipping Mad Hatter, and Tom McCamus as the message-bearing March Hare and Jabberwocky narrator.
When there's not a sound of restlessness or sigh of boredom from a young audience, you know they're caught up with what they're watching. Apart from the crackling of the cellophane-wrapped candy - even that sound, usually so annoying in the theatre, is worked into the staging - everyone, young and old, is rapt with what's happening onstage. Alice is that kind of magical show.