Adaptation for the stage by James Reaney
Sound Designer: John
White Queen: Sarah
Humpty Dumpty: Brian
It is one of the great mysteries of
genius how a shy, stammering Oxford mathematics professor came to create the
most enchanting children’s books in the history of the genre; not only that, but how these same stories about a young girl and her adventures with a vast panoply of
absurd characters are so intellectually clever as to continue to challenge
great minds more than 150 years after they were written! The “Alice” stories
not only turned out to be imaginative and compelling, but also philosophical
textbooks that found new ways to frame the basic questions about our very
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (photo: right) spent most of
his life teaching at Christ Church College, Oxford, but he found time to write
both Alice and Wonderland (1850s) and
Through the Looking Glass (1871)
under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Apparently, his inspiration was the children of
Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church. Liddell had three children, all girls: Lorina,
Edith and Alice. It appears that Dodgson was particularly attracted to
11-year-old Alice. Not only did ‘Alice’ become the heroine of the two books, but
rumor has it that Dodgson even planned to marry her.
The Stratford Festival is best known
for its Shakespeare productions, but it has always offered a full range of plays
and musicals or operettas. Year after year, its seasons mix plays from different
centuries and from many different genres. To be so consistently successful in
all these ventures requires imaginative and capable leadership – Antoni Cimolino at the moment – and a strong company of actors, singers, dancers and
technicians. Alice Through the Looking
Glass was a fine example of a company production. The Reaney adaptation was
a huge success in 1994 and twenty years later it is still an impressive
achievement. The new production, directed by Jillian Kelley in her Stratford
debut is wonderfully entertaining, and not only for children.
It is difficult to praise too highly
what the late James Reaney did, to bring Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic to
the stage. For a start, he was faithful to the original material in the sense
that he closely followed Carroll’s story, resisted the temptation to bring
in material from the earlier and more popular Alice in Wonderland, and did not attempt to add his own thoughts
about the material, the characters or the author. Reaney understood that Alice
Through the Looking-Glass is quite strong enough on its own, with its clever
story line and original characters.
|James Reaney (1979)|
Then it was up to the director and her
team to breathe life into the play. Kelley and her colleagues get it right in
one scene after another.
Lewis Carroll was especially clever in
using the game of chess as a metaphor for Alice’s coming of age. The rules of
chess work as the unseen and little understood actions of invisible forces
moving individuals through life. Many of the leading characters in Alice Through the Looking Glass are
chess pieces come to life; among them are the Red and White Kings and Queens,
and the Red and White Knights. Early on Alice gets what it’s all about:
great huge game of chess that’s being played – all over the world – if this is
the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I
wouldn’t mind being a pawn, if only I might join – though of course I should like to be a Queen best.
And so it goes. Alice does become a
Queen. Trish Lindström as Alice was wide-eyed and likeable, and a whole host of
Stratford stalwarts popped in and out throughout the show. It was luxury
casting with Cynthia Dale, no less, as the Red Queen and Tom McCamus as the
March Hare. Brian Tree, in his 25th Stratford season, almost stole the
show as Humpty Dumpty, pontificating magnificently from atop his enormous egg
body with assistants working his floppy arms.
Mike Nadajewski and Sanjay Talwar
deserve special kudos for their well-drilled and funny Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The costumes added immensely to the success of this scene and to
most others. Bretta Gerecke was the wizard at work here, aided by choreographer
And did I mention audience involvement?
Children running up and down the aisles are usually the bane of an actor’s
existence - not so on this occasion; here, they were positively encouraged to be off
and running when jelly beans starting falling from the sky, and from the actors
Music was used sparingly in this show
but always seemed just right. Jonathan Monro composed the music and recorded it
too, using only keyboards. While the music was vaguely contemporary, it was never
at odds with the period style of the play, nor did it ever fall back on all too
familiar nursery rhyme versions of the songs.
The good news from Stratford is that at
least one of the ‘Alice’ stories is as fresh and timeless as ever. If you
enjoyed it as a child, come to the festival this summer and bring your kids. They’ll fall in love with it too, and you yourself will have another chance to
ponder the great existential questions raised with incomparable cleverness and
imagination so long ago by that shy Oxford mathematics professor.
If your copies of the Alice fantasies
are by now too dog-eared to pass muster, look no further than the internet.
Free replacements are readily available at www.gutenberg.org.
Since 1969, American composer David Del
Tredici has spent much of his time writing pieces that are Alice-related, and
many of them are superb. Del Tredici often sets Carroll’s text to music but he
also probes deeply into the layers of meaning, the real character of Alice and
the relationship between Alice
and the author. In addition, he fully enters into the spirit of the word games,
and creates a few of his own. To learn more about this wonderful music visit
the composer’s website at www.daviddeltredici.com.
Labels: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Concert_Review, Cynthia Dale, Johnathan Munro music, Lewis Carroll, Ontario, Stratford, Trish Lindström