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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Alice in Wonderland

Or: To sit in solemn silence as whimsy bubbles from your ears.

This is a show to have fun at. You do not sit down to puzzle over some great puzzler (not even the puzzler of “what the dickens is going on”) or be wrenched through the wringer of catharsis. No this is just a show to sit down and let yourself go a little bit mad, and delight in all sorts of peculiarities.

That is what Alice was created to do. In 1862 a man named Charles Dodgson told three little girls a story on the banks of the Isis in Oxford “One Golden Afternoon”. It tells the tale of Alice (Jacqueline Soria), an inquisitive child, who one day, seeing a white rabbit with a pocket watch dive into a rabbit hole, follows. In the adaptation by Andre Gregory (adapted for her own purposes by Director Emily Wills) Dodgson (Hale McSharry) or Carroll, as he would one day be known, guides the child through the tospey-turvy world of Wonderland where she encounters, among other oddities, a mercurial Mad Hatter (Katie Incardona), a mysterious Caterpillar (Megan Riley), a Cheshire Cat (Anna Basile), and the terrifying Queen of Hearts (Selina Fillinger).

The story was brought about to give a measure of grace to children brought up “to live in the confines of reason and not to dream up things outside of their reality”. And it shows. For my own part Siting through Alice in Wonderland is very like sitting down to try out a series of exotic chocolate liqueurs. At first bite the sensation is of sweetness and then the taste of lemon or rhubarb or blood explodes across my tongue and I am left knock-kneed and gobsmacked for a quarter minute. And then I reach for another liqueur. It’s an overdose of whimsey, but its very flavorful and diverse whimsey, and once I stop reeling from the explosion of each scene I can easily lean into it and savor its taste.

There is quite a bit to savor. Wills and her cast have really hit upon the timing of Carroll’s word play and world play and sense of play. Comedy is all about timing and the Wonderlandians massaging and shifting of familiar phrases and idioms are given just the right wait and spin so that they produce howls of laughter. The ever shifting world is brought to life through a series of whimsical transformations by the highly flexible cast (hedgehog Croquet is a sight to behold, as is the creation of the salt-tear sea, and the tale of the Jabberwocky delightful in every way). And while the world is madcap, fast paced and fun, they have managed to find small little moments of sadness and cruelty in Alice’s odyssey to draw breath and anchor themselves to.

Despite the endless popping in and out of trapdoors and quick changes and tumbling chicanery the cast really pulls themselves together. Toria is every bit the very english, rather maddening, but chocolate pie sweet child you’ve imagined Alice to be. McSharry finds a fine, cool, narrator in Carol but is quick to cast it off to play all sorts of madcaps, he has great fun sparing with the Incardona’s imperious Mad Hatter. Filliger often steals the show as a pair of Mice, one posh and uppity one sweet as cherry pie, both given to all sorts of adorable antics. She makes a complete one eighty to cast aside the skittish rollypollyness of the mice for the feline slink and satin menace of the ax crazy queen of hearts. Each role could just be a collection of weirdness and nothing more, all have some depth to them, some greater love and purpose.

If you like a good level plot to follow and gasp over go Alice prepared to be disappointed. It’s a series of peculiar events but the events are beloved, belaughed at, and executed with great skill. It is best if you remember that Golden afternoon long ago and like Prima, Secunda and Tertia free yourself from the constraints of logic and reason and allow yourself to bite the liqueur, fall into the rabbit hole and savor all the wonder to be had.

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