Guild Festival Theatre offers up a fanciful outdoor production of Alice in Wonderland. Adapted by David Savoy from Lewis Carroll’s classic, this is the story of a bored yet imaginative youngster, Alice, who finds herself adventuring in the topsy-turvy Wonderland.
After following the frantic White Rabbit, clutching his pocket-watch, down a long hole, she ingests a number of potions, mushrooms and magic-laced cakes to alter her state and help her to adjust to this off-kilter world. She meets many quirky characters, their mundane dilemmas deliriously heightened by wild flights of absurdist wordplay.
Now, Alice in Wonderland has never really been my jam. And yet, despite my tepid enthusiasm for the source material, I found myself quite quickly on board for Tyler J. Seguin’s playful and inventive production. It is that sense of dress-up and horseplay amongst the ensemble that really sells it for me.
The artifice of theatrical presentation is never hidden, but embraced. The performers are quite literally creating the world—which echoes the story itself, where the citizens of Wonderland seem to make up their reality as they go along, almost as an act of defiance.
This “Brechtian” approach is especially effective for children’s theatre as it draws them deliberately into the storytelling process. Alice’s adventure becomes a game in which they are deliciously complicit in all the nonsense as it unfolds.
Parents take note: about mid-way through, there is a five-minute break of thematically appropriate stretching and games which will help some younger children to dispel any mounting restlessness during the 90-minute run time.
Setting the stage with some enlarged coloured playing blocks which spell out A-L-I-C-E., Production Designer Nancy Anne Perrin suggests—right from the start—that this is a child’s daydream. Everyday elements will seem out of proportion and take on strange new significance.
With vividly painted umbrellas and suitcases full of props, the fantastical characters of Wonderland are realized through fragmented, large-scale puppetry. The Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwocky are the most compelling. The similarity of the design and the vaguely sinister vibe of the Cheshire Cat makes it a clever foreshadowing of the Jabberwocky. And that monster is legitimately creepy with its puckered mouth and expanding tentacles enveloping the whole stage.
The Queen of Hearts outfit is similarly evocative. A huge parachute decorated with hearts is flown up and pulled down over her head, settling on her waist. It gives her an impressively regal air and suggests that she materializes out of elements around her. Also, Lauren Wolanski’s comedic performance here was my favourite.
As Alice, Kiana Woo holds her own amongst all the larger-than-life, eccentric personalities around her. She has a stalwart charm that keeps us invested in the disorienting antics. And the rest of the cast—Cayne Kitagawa, Muhaddisah, Anne-Marie Krytiuk and Michael Williamson maintain a sense of fun and forward momentum.
The music is minimal and used sparingly to great effect. Rhythmic plucking builds an energy and tension that culminates in the iconic battle with the Jabberwocky. The performers also make effective use of whirly tubes to establish an eerie sense of magic happening.
Alice in Wonderland has ample whimsy, wit and spectacle to satisfy a whole family. I was drawn in and I’m not even particularly fond of the story. I imagine anyone coming to it with an established affection will find it an even bigger treat.