Warped Jab­ber­wocky daz­zles THEATRE

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -


2Created by the Old Trout Pup­pet Work­shop and Friends. An Old Trout Pup­pet Work­shop pro­duc­tion, pre­sented by the Cultch. At the York Theatre on Wed­nes­day, Fe­bru­ary 7. Con­tin­ues un­til Fe­bru­ary 17 Jab­ber­wocky ex­plores the pri­mal, eter­nal re­cur­rences in life’s jour­ney: the urge to mate, the call to ad­ven­ture, the in­evitable dis­ap­point­ment, and the pass­ing of the torch. Be­cause it deals in archetypes, the story is sim­ple—but its pre­sen­ta­tion is any­thing but.

The per­form­ers, from Cal­gary’s Old Trout Pup­pet Work­shop, be­gin by trad­ing off lines—sans pup­pets!— in a dra­matic recita­tion of Lewis Car­roll’s fa­mous non­sense poem, from Through the Look­ing-glass, and What Alice Found There, savour­ing the de­li­cious ab­sur­dity of made-up words like vor­pal and galumph­ing. This is fol­lowed by a se­quence that il­lus­trates nat­u­ral cy­cles—flow­ers, bees, plants, an­i­mals, di­ges­tion, re­pro­duc­tion—us­ing a dizzy­ing ar­ray of tech­niques: lights, two-di­men­sional pup­pets, and scrolling back­grounds. This se­quence is full of sur­prises: in one mem­o­rable im­age, a hu­man per­former dressed in white rep­re­sents the mother’s milk mak­ing its way from her nip­ple to the mouth of a hun­gry baby.

The story then set­tles in on one fam­ily. Fa­ther, mother, and son wear head­pieces re­sem­bling the March Hare from the Alice book’s cel­e­brated il­lus­tra­tions. When the fa­ther re­turns, dis­ap­pointed, from his own at­tempt to kill the Jab­ber­wock (or slay the prover­bial dragon), the son steals his “vor­pal sword” and heads out on his own ad­ven­ture.

Char­ac­ters and im­agery from Car­roll’s books make oc­ca­sional cameos, but most of the world is in­vented. As the son heads out, the back­drop changes from a bu­colic land­scape to a gritty ur­ban set­ting, the hori­zon oblit­er­ated by sky­scrapers. In one of the show’s most im­mer­sive se­quences, our hero gets a job along­side two-di­men­sional rab­bits in busi­ness at­tire, re­peat­edly rub­ber­stamp­ing doc­u­ments to a rhyth­mi­cally com­plex sound­scape. (There’s no com­poser credit in the pro­gram for the sinewy mu­sic, but through­out the show, Jonathan Lewis’s sound de­sign con­trib­utes as much to the ad­ven­ture as the vi­su­als.)

In the “Jab­ber­wocky” poem, the Trouts have found not only a new way to dress up their favourite themes (birth, death), but in­spi­ra­tion for the work’s un­der­ly­ing me­chan­ics. Scrolling panora­mas are a Vic­to­rian-era theatre tech­nol­ogy; scenic painters Katie Green, Pi­tyu Ken­deres, Dawna Mark, and Chelsea Teller dis­play their lov­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail in ev­ery­thing from rich red theatre cur­tains to striped-wall­pa­per do­mes­tic back­drops and dark, earthy sky­scrapers.

Per­form­ers Ni­co­las Di Gae­tano, Teddy Ivanova, Ken­deres, and Se­bas­tian Kroon work their butts off han­dling the show’s count­less mov­ing parts. There’s a won­der­fully in­ven­tive scene of the son watch­ing his par­ents fool around: as the boy crouches up­stage out­side their door, the par­ents chase each other while an­other per­former holds up a cutout of a key­hole in front of them. It’s a bit like live cu­bism: we as­sem­ble the lay­ers into the whole.

Fa­mil­iar story? For sure. But the pre­sen­ta­tion gives it a fresh, wholly orig­i­nal spin.



Gets won­der­fully in­ven­tive us­ing char­ac­ters and im­agery from Lewis Car­roll’s books. Ja­son Stang photo.

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