REVIEW: Alice a psychedelic, hilarious trip

Alice Through the Looking Glass GigCity EdmontonAlice Through the Looking-Glass explodes onto the Citadel Theatre stage with an all-Edmonton cast – all 15 of them – and the exuberance of an eight-year-old on a sugar high.

Director Jillian Keiley and Edmonton designer Bretta Gerecke have dug deeply into their inner urchins and come up with a visually fantastic universe, based on an outlandish chess game where events are disconnected from thought and the familiar is distorted by the prism of dim youthful memories; and then set it in a phantasmagorical, crayon-coloured world of children’s drawings.

Alice began in 1865 when 10-year-old Alice Lidell asked her friend, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, to tell her a story while boating on the Thames. He did and later published it under the name of Lewis Carroll. The stories were an immediate success and have never been out of print. The author was not the originator of nonsense fiction, but was certainly one of its best practitioners.

Much of the humour in this show is based on a Victorian sense of language. Even if we laugh at somewhat different things today, the writing is so clever it is impossible not to be swept along. Kids will love the fractured logic and outrageous takes on familiar fairy-tale characters. Older audiences will appreciate Lewis Carroll’s convoluted speech, inventive word play and mind-stretching intellectual demands. And when mind-game fatigue sets in, along comes Keiley and her merry band of jongleurs to keep you laughing.

Not everything works, but the production just keeps coming at you – with jelly beans floating down from the ceiling on tiny parachutes, giant flowers growing out the handlebars of bicycles while cast members glide around the stage on roller skates perambulating metal trees.

There is also an excellent vaguely Victorian sound track (and some hummable songs) from Newfoundland music whiz Jonathan Monro.

Alice Through the Looking Glass GigCity EdmontonEllie Heath as Alice is the only sensible soul in a topsy-turvy world on the other side of a mirror. The actor shows considerable spunk in a role that gives her little opportunity to perform in the outrageous manner of everyone else, but she keeps the adolescent frustration of her character fresh throughout.

Tweedledee (Scott Walters) and Tweedledum (Jesse Gervais) display the whacked-out chemistry of a deranged vaudeville duo. The Red Queen (Jan Alexandra Smith) is given an imperious twist while the White Queen (Beth Graham) flits and flies about the stage like a distracted hummingbird. Humpty Dumpty (John Ullyatt) is a curdled, sour fellow who suffers a spectacular (if off-stage) “great fall” in one of the production’s funniest moments. He also delivers one of the great nonsense poems of all time, Jabberwocky, as a hilarious take-off on a Masterpiece Theatre monologue. The White Knight (Sheldon Elter) blunders about the stage with all the aplomb of Basil Fawlty. Farren Timoteo makes a memorable comic turn out of his short appearance as the Hare.

There is no doubting the creative brilliance of the Keiley/Gerecke duo, but there is so much going on with the actors that their collective talent must have been greatly utilized by the directors.

Adults will love it. The eight-year-old sitting beside me was mesmerized by the whole experience.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass is a Citadel production in association with the Stratford Festival and the National Arts Centre. It runs through March 20 on the Shoctor Stage.

Photos by Ian Jackson