Time to Wonder: A Review of ASF’s Alice in Wonderland

By on 4 February, 2015 in Art, Fun, Heather Coleman with 0 Comments
Art courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival

Art courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival

The story of Alice in Wonderland is a childhood classic that manages to transcend adolescence, being simultaneously a nonsense story for children and a witty commentary on the business of growing up. The anthropomorphic inhabitants of Wonderland are an exaggerated representation of how a child sees the familiar but foreign adult world. Changing perspective is a theme that runs throughout. Many of the songs or poems that Lewis Carroll included were parodies of contemporary works – a wink to adult fans.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a performance of Alice in Wonderland at the world-renowned Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Director Nancy Rominger has taken Jean Erickson’s clever adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland and made it her own, infusing the play with a vibrancy that plays homage to Carroll’s story while simultaneously adds little touches that make it more relevant and familiar to the children of today. The play is only an adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and not the companion story Through the Looking Glass. This limited scope allows the play to fit within one hour – the perfect length to captivate younger children.

Without giving too much away, Alice falling down the rabbit hole is one of the most magical and ingenious falling sequences that I’ve seen on stage. A kaleidoscope of color and movement carries the audience down the hole and into Wonderland along with Alice. Once we have finally landed, we are faced with a world where our Alice is constantly shrinking and growing. Through the use of a handful of props, the audience experiences the same changing perspectives as Alice.

James Wolk’s innovative set design manages to create both worlds with a very limited set. We see both Alice’s real home where she picnics with her sister and the world of Wonderland on the intimate Octagon stage. I was surprised that a few scarves and a handful of props could be used to create two distinctly different spaces. Imagination rushes to fill in the blanks, though, making the limited set perfect for Wonderland.

Nearly all of the actors played at least two roles, so costuming to create distinct characters was crucial. Pamela Scofield’s delightfully colorful costuming of the Cards (who also functioned as stage crew) was reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 – a deliberate nod, as one of the actors revealed in the talkback. Bright colors and strong patterns add to the otherworldly feeling in Wonderland, standing in sharp contrast to Alice’s proper Victorian attire. Both the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat are fantastic (and played by the same actor!).

Physical comedy helped to engage even the youngest in the audience. Alice at several points wonders aloud, eliciting replies from the audience (adorable!). The Queen of Hearts, while maybe a little scary in the novel, comes across more funny than scary in the play’s adaptation, despite her constant “off with her head” pronouncements. Overall this was the perfect play to take even very young children to see. The audience was roughly 1/3 children, many as young as three, and for that hour they were transported – no talking, no wiggling, just totally rapt. Quite impressive if you’ve ever been around toddlers! There was a talkback at the end that resulted in so many fantastic questions from audience members of all ages that the actors finally had to cut it short.

There are performances of Alice in Wonderland at Alabama Shakespeare Festival at 2 and 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Feb 15. Get your tickets quickly, most shows are sold out already!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown. She is on Google+, Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest.

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