Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 and has never been out of print ever since. It is a novel for children but it has kept adults enthralled with its story and scholars of numerous fields gainfully employed analyzing it. Not to mention is continuous presence in popular culture from films, television and stage adaptations.
Bad Hats Theatre has provided Torontonians with the latest adaptation, presented by Soulpepper at the Young Centre as an entertaining, light-hearted musical version.
Fiona Sauder’s adaptation begins in a classroom where about half a dozen clever pupils in a raucous classroom ask questions that would daunt a teacher. The most persistent questioner is Alice (Tess Benger) who drives the teacher (Matt Pilipiak) to distraction. Director Sue Miner and the adapter produce a highly kinetic show with acrobatic dancing, boisterous singing and continuous activity.
The music by Victor Pokinko and Landon Doak never slows down and it seems intended to propel the action forward. The musicians are part of the cast and are on stage when they are required to play.
The sets by Bad Hats Theatre use large window frames, desks and chairs, all on wheels, that are whirled around the stage using the choreography of Cameron Carver, again following the same goal of providing fast-paced action and entertainment.
Ten actors play more than two dozen characters from the novel. Aisha Jarvis plays the Cheshire Cat only, along with Benger’s Alice while the rest of the cast handle from two to four characters. They perform with amazing flexibility and maintain a superb momentum.
Benger stands out for her vocal beauty and her representation of the intelligent, curious and thought-provoking Alice. Pilipiak makes a nimble and wonderful White Rabbit and teacher trying to handle rambunctious pupils. Let me pay a great compliment to the rest of the cast before I start complaining.
The highly dynamic production with a seriously agile cast did not allow much time for me to follow the story. Fiona Sauder has no doubt absorbed every detail of the novel and all the actions of the two dozen characters that she includes in her adaptation but it is not at all clear to someone who has not done so recently. The quick-paced and entertaining approach would have gained immensely if we could follow all the bends and turns in the story.
Alice in Wonderland adapted by Fiona Sauder from the novel by Lewis Carroll will run until January 7, 2023, at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca.