One step forward, two miles down the rabbit hole.
Queen Margaret’s School’s presentation of Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl was a brilliant compilation of Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, pivoting from laugh-out-loud comedy of the absurd to compelling messages about life and growing up.
“You are a very little girl,” Alice is told by numerous characters, as she slowly builds up confidence, switches size between small and big and finds that nobody in Wonderland really has all the answers.
“What if we’re all mad?” Alice asks.
The play by Karen Hartman weaves a narrative about female empowerment and finding one’s destiny with a roller coaster ride through the upside-down world of Wonderland and its cast of colourful characters and creatures.
An outstanding performance from Alyssa Andress as Alice anchored the show, including great singing, while her companion the Cheshire Cat was played paw-fectly by Maiya Modeste.
“If you walk long enough you’ll go a long way,” Cheshire Cat tells Alice, also advising her that her preconceptions of what’s real and valid are mistaken, and getting her to try a cigar, which doesn’t work out so well.
The imperious Red Queen played by Sydney McCrae cuts an imposing figure, who at one point leads the court in its judgment of Alice for forgetting her lessons and breaking other increasingly random rules. Later the queen softens to Alice, giving her some cynical advice.
“Life is a big game of chess and you are a pawn…In this world it takes all you have just to stay put,” she tells Alice, later adding “I don’t apologize for my former tiny size, I learned to strategize like all girls do.”
The White Queen played by Arrington Bricker spun Alice’s head around with her take on living backwards and defying the ordinary.
“When I was your age I practiced six impossible things before breakfast,” she tells Alice. “Don’t cry, consider, consider what a big girl you are.”
A host of other characters from a pair of clowns to the White Knight and the Jabberwocky kept the audience careening through each crazy twist and turn until near the end Alice encounters a nemesis who deals a blow to her expectations.
As she gets to square six of the chessboard of her jangled journey, Alice is met by Humpty Dumpty, given a brilliantly hilarious treatment by Rohin Arun, who had the audience doubling over with laughter as he lectured Alice, went berserk over the idea his own fate was foreknown, and criticized the play itself and its entire concept as he perched on his small wall.
The whole tale must be discounted “upon consideration of the biographical impulses behind the wishful thinking” of its author, Humpty claims, silencing Alice’s protests that she is not a fiction.
“You’re an egg,” she yells at him.
“And you are just another story,” he responds, before Alice gets angry and he falls from the wall.
Finally when she has to leave Wonderland and grows up, Alice is filled with nostalgia and wisdom, crying for “all the ways she had changed” and for all those who want to stay where they are on the chessboard of life, but must move by necessity.
With students from Grade 5 to 12, the cast of 35 featured spot-on performances with characters sporting colourful and creative costumes, as well as numerous other students helping as designers, producers, light technicians and choreographers for the production. Lighting was used imaginatively and boldly to create moments of drama and illumination, and even a sparkling, flowing river at the end. Sound was also used to great effect to highlight moments of tension, humour and the unexpected.
The set was very well done, with a wonky off-kilter chessboard floor, a castle done with construction paper and a giant rainbow creating the backdrop for Alice’s amazing adventure.