Alice Through The Looking Glass
Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Feb. 27 to March 20, 2016
Adapted for the stage by James Reaney, from the Lewis Carroll classic.
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.com
To truly enjoy the Citadel’s frothy, Cirque de Soleil-like production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, look not for underlying philosophy, ideology or theology. Relax, sit back, and simply enjoy the theatrical feast laid before your very eyes.
This is a production of non-stop delightful moments, showing off the ability of professional theatre to create illusion at its very finest. It’s about costume and colour, superb team-work and great comedy – mostly of the physical variety. When this stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tones down to serious, or at least explanatory, it stumbles and goes cold as was the case in Act. 1.
Once Alice (Ellie Heath) has popped through the looking glass into her dream world (or is it the Red King’s dream?), the show takes about 15 minutes to explain how she, as a pawn, will make her way across the stage floor’s giant chess board until she can become a queen.
For that portion of James Reaney’s adaption, after the initial fun of the Looking Glass world and the magical migration through the glass, the explaining slowed the pace to a crawl and things became a tad dreary.
The action came alive with one of Tweedledum (Jesse Gervais) and Tweedledee (Scott Walters) having a world-class temper tantrum, diving off and over the back-stage riser from which dozens of succeeding characters were to fall, roll, jump or otherwise cross that particular divide.
With the scene of the two Twees, things began to roll. John Ullyatt’s rendition of the Jabberwocky tale as an over-the-top Edwardian story-telling spoof worked like a darn.
The ensemble work – dozens of actors on stage in all matter of dresses, accelerated as the Walrus and the Carpenter devoured the humanoid actor oysters. High gear was hit and the slap-stick humour just kept on coming for the balance of the play.
Act 2 opened with Ullyatt chewing on the scenery as Humpty Dumpty on top of a grand wall. But it was offstage that he had his great fall – aieeeeeee, we hear, with a yolk yellow pillow and an egg-white blanket thrown on stage.
The hits just kept coming. The sparring match between the kangaroo-jumpin’ unicorn (Richard Lee His) and the lion (Matt Alden) was as action-packed as a Bruce Lee movie.
Sheldon Elter darn near stole the entire show with his White Knight’s prolonged and hilarious attempts to ride off on his beach-toy blow-up steed.
The show is as much a credit to the stage technicians as the actors. Giant props never stop moving. Jelly beans fall out of the sky, streamers fly across the audience. Light, music and sound effects shift like sand in a storm every single second, and it’s quite a long show. Yet never was a miscue detectable to the audience.
Capturing the spirit of the Carrollian classic was Director Jillian Keiley’s inspired use of a troupe of grinning Alice Kryptonite reverse clones. Some eight to 10 male actors wore Alice wigs, but black as night, and pranced about in Alice-like dresses but in an opposing colour scheme. The black Alices sang, danced, waved props and acted as stage hands. They were yet another vital element in the capturing of the spirit of the madcap show.
It goes without saying that the set and costume design were extraordinary. When designer Bretta Gerecke designs and creates costumes and sets, said costumes and sets will be just as important to the show as the on-stage humans. After years honing her craft in Edmonton as co-creator of Catalyst Theatre’s phantasmagorical shows with Jonathan Christenson and at the Citadel, Bretta’s reputation has grown to the extent that she is creating mood and ambiance on major stages the world over.
Kudos as well to a decision taken by the show’s producers and director, that, as it tours across Canada, all roles go to local professional actors at each stop.
Edmonton has so much great talent, and the fact that most of these actors have worked together so often was to compare the cast to a superb professional sports team. Everybody intuitively knows each other’s moves.
The only slight question mark was Alice herself, played by Ellie Heath. She was fine as far as she went, being the character around which the entire show pivots. But there wasn’t the innocence one might have expected, and Health had a mildly annoying repetition of a limited number of gestures and vocal tones all evening long.
A wonderful show for all ages, from five to 95: You’ll not see such imagination and scale and wondrous creativity on the Citadel stage again for some time.
If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times in this theatrical review blog: Thanks to the superb artistic direction and fiscal management of the Citadel’s soon-to-retire Artistic Director Bob Baker and Executive Director Penny Ritco, we are continually blessed with the very best of theatre in North America, for a fraction of the price of Broadway shows.