Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a visual must-see delight at The Shaw

There have been straight plays, movies, television shows, and of course books. Now there is a musical version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland being showcased at The Shaw Festival of Canada.  

Yes, Alice in Wonderland, the Victorian tale of a young girl who “falls” down a rabbit hole and has a series of adventures.  In other versions, she falls asleep, in some steps through a looking glass.

The surface tale concerns Alice who, in the Shaw version, is floating in a boat, on a lovely pond.   She follows the Rabbit into a hole, falls down and down, finds herself in a hall with lots of doors, finds a key, is too tall to go through the door, drinks a potion, shrinks enough to go through, and then is thrust into a series of adventures including being surrounded by a sea of tears she shed while she was full-sized, attends a tea party with a strange group of characters, fantasizes about a huge Cheshire cat, plays a rule-less game of croquet with a “real” flamingo as her mallet and hedgehogs as balls, attends a trial of the Knave of Hearts, listens to a mock turtle sing a melancholy song about turtle soup, is attacked by a deck of cards, gets bigger and smaller as a result of eating cake, then mushrooms, then more liquid.  “Oh, what is one to do?”

There have been many attempts to explain the Lewis Carroll’s story.  Alice encounters numerous puzzles in her adventures, with each having no clear solution.  Like most of us, Alice expects answers to such frustrations as what are the rules and meaning of the Queen’s croquet game? What is the answer to the Mad Hatter’s riddle? What is the cause of the constant hurry of the White Rabbi?   Why does Alice keep changing sizes?

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man known as Lewis Carroll, was a precocious child, who showed an early interest in writing and mathematics.  He grew up to be an eccentric who wrote tales to entertain, edify and enlighten.

An advocate of freedom and wisdom for children, his tales amused, but often were not totally understood.  His awkwardness around adults caused him to spend a great deal of time with children.

As a logician, the author knows there are no answers to many of life’s conundrums, and that may be his very point, that life is filled with frustrations, expectations and situations that resist interpretation and can’t be solved.

The Alice stories were supposedly written for the amusement of Alice Lidell, the young daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.  They started out as an oral tale, which eventually he wrote down. 

The morals to be gained from the tale: An inevitable loss of childhood innocence as one grows up and confronts the reality of the real world, and that life is a puzzle and filled with underlying menace and inexplicable experiences.

The Shaw production, under the creative direction of Peter Hinton, who also adapted the material for stage, is visually enchanting due to the electronic effects created by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson.  William Schmuck’s costumes and Kevin Lamotte’s lighting designs enhanced the visual delight.

The huge cast is excellent, many transforming themselves into believable fantasies such as a French Mouse, Queen of Spades, Eagle, Duck, Owl, Monkey, Woodpecker, Chipmunk, and Lobster. 

Special hurrahs to Ben Sanders as the White Rabbit, Jennifer Phipps (Cheshire Cat), Graeme Somerville (Mad Hatter and Mock Turtle), Moya O’Connell (Queen of Hearts) and Patty Jamieson (Dormouse).  The appearance of the multi-peopled Caterpillar brought extended applause.

Capsule judgment:   The technical aspects of The Shaw’s Alice in Wonderland are outstanding.  Compelling projections, magical costumes, dancing lobsters, a talking rabbit, an ever-smiling bigger than life Cheshire cat, a beautiful river with a floating boat, and ever-growing and shrinking Alice, all combined to make this a must see production.   (BTW---reputation not withstanding, this is not a show for young children.)

Alice in Wonderland
is presented in the Festival Theatre through October 16 at The Shaw Festival, a tribute to George Bernard Shaw and his writing contemporaries.  The Shaw has been dubbed “One of the great repertory theaters in the English-speaking world.”

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com.