Alice Through the Looking-Glass a reminder of childhood magic

If you’re wondering where to find a good portion of Edmonton’s actors and actresses this month, the answer is the Citadel’s production of Alice Through the Looking-Glassplaying at the Citadel until March 20.

Alice Through the Looking Glass, written by Lewis Carol as a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is adapted by James Reaney to form a wonderful, whimsical show that brings you back to the magic of being a child. The play’s fantastical plot jumps along a dream-like narrative brought to life by a veritable cast of eccentric characters that Alice encounters along her way.

While Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland reference cards, chess is the name of the game in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. After being banished to the drawing room for misbehaving, Alice enters Looking-Glass land to keep herself amused while the party goes on elsewhere in her house. Finding herself having magically traveled through the looking-glass, Alice meets the Red Queen who promises to make Alice a queen if she can move to the eighth row in the looking-glass land, which is laid out like a giant chess board. To do so, with each move she must win over or disarm various characters that occupy each square, ranging from the bumbling Tweedledee and Tweedledum to the White Queen, whose claim to fame is remembering the future, to the aggressive Red Knight focused on taking the white pawn (Alice) hostage until the White Knight comes to her rescue. We come along with Alice on this adventure, from its beginnings in reality – where she is sent to the drawing room and told she is “a very, very bad girl” through to the happy ending a play like this isn’t complete without.

Alice Through the Looking-Glass is one of those plays you just have to let yourself be carried away by. If the plot sounds nonsensical, it is! It’s what it’s like to be buried deep in the imagination of a young girl. Leave that analytical part of your mind at the door – the part that might desire a straightforward storyline or say, ‘that’s not possible’ – because it’ll just frustrate you and take you away from the magic of the show.

Bretta Gerecke’s set provides the perfect backdrop to this nonsensical play. Child-like imagination and wonder have been embedded into every part of this production. The set is a giant chessboard sloping downstage (the floor is higher at the back of the stage) with layers of curtains gradually narrowing the playing space to create perspective, making it appear the chessboard is disappearing into the distance. The scenery and props were made by the artisans of the Stratford Festival and are delightfully imaginative – think flowers and trees growing out of bicycles, horses that look like those bouncy balls children jump around on, and zorbs (those inflatable bubbles people roll down hills or play soccer in) – and trust me, you’ll want to see that last one.

If you have to look for a serious through-line in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, for me it was the references to the adults in Alice’s life that stuck out. For example, Jan Alexandra Smith, who plays the Red Queen, is very clearly representative of Alice’s mother: she runs so fast Alice can’t keep up with her, she’s always right (or thinks she is), yells a good portion of the time when she could speak regularly instead, and she creates rules and instructions that seem nonsensical – reminiscent of the rules that adults impose on children that don’t seem to make sense. However, by the end of the play, Alice is able to stand up for herself to the Red Queen and in doing so, becomes a queen.

Ellie Heath rises to the demanding challenges of the role of Alice – bringing that child-like energy, enthusiasm and stamina to the role. Ellie really embodies the experience of being a child and being so excited about and accepting of everything, no matter how absurd it may seem to an adult mind. I particularly loved how she imitated the Red Queen or the brief glimpse of her mother we catch at the top of the show – reminding the adults in the audience of how closely kids really are listening even when it seems like they’re not. I loved watching the journey Ellie went on as Alice – her confidence growing with each character she encountered and won over. The characters we meet are all imperfect and misbehaved – just like Alice believes she is at the beginning of the show – and I loved watching Alice grow as she realized that just because you’re not perfect, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

If you’ve heard anything about the Citadel’s production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, it has to be the awesome cast of local actors directors Jillian Keiley and Christine Brubaker have put together for this production. From Beth Graham’s confidently nonsensical White Queen, to Patricia Zentilli’s cute and heartbreaking portrayal of the Gnat, to Richard Lee Hsi’s nimble yet aggressive boxing Unicorn, to Nadien Chu’s adorable portrayal of a flower, to Scott Walters and Jesse Gervais’ delightful exchange as Tweedledee and Tweedledum respectively – the list could go on and on. It’s a treat to get to experience such a concentration of Edmonton’s talent in one place.

Of course, Alice Through the Looking-Glass will delight children, but if you’re an adult without children in your life, it’s just as wonderful to access your inner child and remember the magic of childish imagination and acceptance of the absurd and impossible. 

Alice Through the Looking-Glass plays at the Citadel Theatre until March 20. Tickets are $25 – $90 through the Citadel’s website or box office.

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