Soulpepper Theatre Company Present Bad Hats Theatre's 'Alice in Wonderland' adapted by Fiona Sauder
Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto's Historic Distillery District
The cast. Credit: Dahlia Katz
A delightfully enjoyable ‘Alice’ and knowing it’s okay to be different while growing curiouser and curiouser about life.
What a difference a year can make from the absence of live theatre.
Last year, I enjoyed Bad Hats’ streamed production of Fiona Sauder’s adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but there was something uniquely different on this opening night at Soulpepper compared to last year’s online presentation.
What was that difference? It’s that necessary connection and spark between the actor and the live audience that makes us want to go to the theatre that we can’t get from a computer or television screen.
Most of the cast from last year’s production of Bad Hats’ ‘Alice’ has returned for this run and delightfully captured the joy, innocence, sweetness, and excitement of this adapted tale on opening night.
Creatively directed with controlled precision and obvious affection for the story by Sue Miner, this boisterous and exuberant nine-member cast confidently tells the story with enthusiastic dedication. At times it’s a tornadic whirlwind of activity from Cameron Carver’s fast-paced choreography and set pieces to roll in and out with actors entering from all corners of the theatre, but that’s part of the fun in wondering what will happen next. The audience sits on both sides of the stage which was a good choice made as it allowed for excellent sight lines. Logan Cracknell’s warm lighting design accentuates the playing space for visual impact.
Ming Wong's costumes beautifully re-create sometimes rather simply the essence and joy of wonderment of classic childhood tales. Matt Pilipiak’s White Rabbit costume says so much about the character with so very little. On the outside is the teacher Mr. C. who arrives late to class and is flustered by that fact and needs a few moments to compose himself. Pilipiak is properly dressed as the supposed role model teacher Mr. C; however, when he becomes the White Rabbit, Pilipiak places bunny ears on his head and a bunny poof of a tail on his backside. Vanessa Sears’ stunning ruby red gown as the Red Queen immediately caught my eye upon her first entrance.
Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko’s music composition is spot on with cheeky wordplay in the songs ably supported by Rachel O’Brien’s direction. The only thing I found bothersome at times was Andres Castillo Smith’s Sound Systems. There were a few moments in some of the choral numbers where I couldn’t hear all the lyrics and that was a tad disappointing. I’m a stickler for sound design if people and songs can or cannot be heard. There were several children and young people in this opening night audience, and I believe it is prime to ensure they enjoy what they are seeing and hearing.
What made this production enjoyable for me was the concept and misconception of time in its understanding and misunderstanding. There are two clocks in the classroom that I didn’t see from my seat and the students wonder which clock they are to look at to decide what is the correct time.
We are in a classroom when the story begins, and I also got the sense play adapter Fiona Sauder might perhaps be poking fun at the education system (Ontario’s perhaps?) where the students playfully and intentionally misread the questions asked of them in trying to finish their homework which leads to many amusing anecdotes and comments. The same homework sheet can also be found in the audience programmes.
Matt Pilipiak’s frazzled in a tizzy of a teacher Mr. C. is amusingly adorable which makes his connection to the White Rabbit’s being late more believable for me from a childlike perspective. Tess Benger is Alice, the likeable young child protagonist who likes to question why things are the way they are and why they aren’t the way they aren’t supposed to be. Benger is a naturally believable performer who becomes the doe-eyed young child sent off to the corner by Mr. C to finish her homework, and it is from here that she falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. I must applaud the simplicity in the manner Miner has staged Alice’s falling through the rabbit hole – very simplistic to stage with props and still intriguing to watch. Even umbrella props become fascinating tools to utilize.
Other characters are also quite fun to watch. Fiona Sauder and Landon Doak become entertaining word players as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and as the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Vanessa Sears’s Red Queen gorgeously becomes larger than life and fun to watch thanks to Ming Wong’s extraordinary costume design. Aisha Jarvis is an attentive Cheshire Cat who moves about the stage gracefully and incorporates some feline movements as she and Alice talk. Jarvis manages to utilize that grin on her face that made me believe she could be from another world. Supporting players Breton Lalama, Jessica Gallant and Richard Lam contribute grandly to the world of the curiouser and the curiouser whereby we all begin to understand why things are the way they are when we ask questions.
Final Comments: In her Director’s Note, Sue Miner reminds us to keep asking questions, small and large, because with curiosity and kindness the world cannot help but be a better place.
This exceptional cast of players makes us all glad to be back in the theatre.
Oh, and by the way, here’s another idea for a Christmas or holiday gift. Come to the theatre and see ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
Running Time: approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ runs until January 7, 2023, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. For tickets, 1-416-866-8666 or visit Soulpepper.ca. To learn more about Bad Hats Theatre, visit badhatstheatre.com.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Adapted by Fiona Sauder
Soulpepper Theatre Company Presents Bad Hat’s Theatre production
Directed by Sue Miner
Associate Director: Fiona Sauder
Set Designer: Bad hats Theatre
Co-Composers: Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko
Dramaturg, Associate Director: Matt Pilipiak
Music Director: Rachel O’Brien
Choreographer: Cameron Carver
Lighting Designer Logan Cracknell
Costume Designer: Ming Wong
Stage Manager: Tamara Protic
Artists: Tess Benger, Landon Doak, Jessica Gallant, Aisha Jarvis Breton Lalama, Richard Lam, Matt Pilipiak, Fiona Sauder, Vanessa Sears