Go down RMTC’s rab­bit hole

Man­i­toba ac­tors, bril­liant vi­su­als make it a must to visit Alice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - By Ran­dall King ran­dall.king@freep­ress.mb.ca

ROYAL Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre’s sea­sonal hol­i­day offering is not es­pe­cially Christ­mas-y in its theme. But it’s cer­tainly Christ­mas-y in its ef­fect. It feels like a sur­prise gift. Lewis Car­roll’s se­quel to Alice in Won­der­land, adapted by the late Cana­dian play­wright James Reaney, is vis­ually a hol­i­day feast. And while the con­trap­tion-rich de­sign el­e­ments may have come from the 2014 Strat­ford Fes­ti­val pro­duc­tion, the show also of­fers the home­grown plea­sures of a locavore ban­quet, its cast fresh-picked from a pool of all-Man­i­toba ac­tors.

We first en­counter the lit­tle girl Alice (Gwen­dolyn Collins) here in the real world, bawled out by an un­spec­i­fied ma­tron (Mariam Bern­stein) for un­spec­i­fied naugh­ti­ness and ban­ished to her room.

Alice’s dis­tress draws her to a look­ing glass mounted above a fire­place. Her fan­tasy of the alternate uni­verse therein yields a dream­world where ev­ery­thing is back­wards.

From great heights, she dis­cov­ers the world looks like a chess­board, and Alice is promised by the grandly haughty Red Queen (Bern­stein again) that if she makes the cor­rect moves across the board, she her­self may be­come a queen.

Of course, the jour­ney is not as easy as that. Alice must en­counter a se­ries of chal­lenges, in­clud­ing a flower gar­den with flora as rude as they are sweetly scented. The White Queen (Terri Ch­er­ni­ack) gives Alice a les­son in alternate look­ing-glass physics, where you have to go back­wards to move for­ward, and mem­ory ac­cesses both past and fu­ture. (For the seem­ing in­no­cence of the chil­dren’s-book mi­lieu, au­thor Lewis Car­roll was a lo­gi­cian and math­e­ma­ti­cian, and didn’t hes­i­tate to in­tro­duce con­cepts that wouldn’t have been out of place in the golden age of science fic­tion.)

An­other move takes her into the com­pany of ro­tund twins Twee­dle­dum (Tris­tan Car­lucci) and Twee­dledee (Aaron Prid­ham), who slow Alice’s progress with their rough­house an­tics and naughty be­hav­iour.

Humpty Dumpty (Arne MacPher­son) gives Alice co­pi­ous at­ti­tude, a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion for an egg sit­ting pre­car­i­ously on a high wall. (This scene has a pay­off that is, for lack of a bet­ter word, de­li­cious.)

MacPher­son also ap­pears as Lewis Car­roll him­self, read­ing the clas­sic poem Jab­ber­wocky aug­mented by sump­tu­ous pup­pet work (coached by Jan Skene).

While the play is not tech­ni­cally a mu­si­cal, Ry­lan Wilkie, as the White Knight, does of­fer a sec­ond act show­stop­per that might be wrong for a non-mu­si­cal, but is com­pletely right in the any­thing-goes con­text of an Alice story. (Wilkie’s sweet and soul­ful singing voice doesn’t hurt.)

Collins ad­mirably main­tains her ex­u­ber­ant en­ergy through the twohour-and-15 minute per­for­mance (with in­ter­mis­sion) but the en­tire cast is kept busy, busy, busy. If they’re not play­ing one of the iconic char­ac­ters, ev­ery­one in the cast, men and women, also ap­pear in Alice drag to pup­peteer, move sets (with the aid of mag­nif­i­cent bi­cy­cle con­trap­tions) and even pro­vide some doo-wop back­ing vo­cals.

This pro­duc­tion is an im­pres­sive call­ing card for Man­i­toba act­ing tal­ent. There is so much to love here. Bern­stein is a dan­ger­ous dy­namo as the Red Queen, and Ch­er­ni­ack em­bod­ies the dotty English el­der as the White Queen. As Twee­dle­dum and Twee­dledee, Tris­tan Car­lucci and Aaron Prid­ham play off each other like sea­soned vaudeville veter­ans, equally adept at slap­stick and word­play. Dorothy Car­roll is a dron­ing de­light in the role of a sen­tient gnat (an­other scene with a glo­ri­ous pay­off, by the way).

And who would have thought a lean, an­gu­lar, in­tense ac­tor such as MacPher­son would ab­so­lutely nail the role of Humpty Dumpty?

The hol­i­day slot for this play is ap­pro­pri­ate, but the tim­ing is right in an­other way. In 2016, Tim Bur­ton will release his own version of Through

the Look­ing Glass as a se­quel to his in­ex­pli­ca­bly suc­cess­ful 2010 version of

Alice in Won­der­land.

If the se­quel is as tacky and overblown as the orig­i­nal, we can take com­fort in the fact that this version not only came first, it’s also bet­ter, both in its es­thetic and its more tan­gi­ble re­wards.

Oh yes, there will be jelly­beans.

ROBERT TIN­KER PHOTO

DY­LAN HEWLETT PHOTO

RMTC’s colour­ful pro­duc­tion and cast are a dream come true.

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