The Georgia Straight
In Wonderland director sees pandemic parallels in play
Director Haysam Kadri likes to go big with his theatre productions. As the artistic producer of a Shakespeare company in Alberta, Kadri has been irresistibly attracted to shows about extraordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances.
“I love plays that ask the audience to go on a journey, plays that require extreme imagination and buy-in,” Kadri tells the Straight by phone from Calgary. “I love those kinds of stories.”
So it was only natural for him to want to direct In Wonderland, a retelling of two of Lewis Carroll’s novels: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the LookingGlass. Playwright Anna Cummer’s script features an array of characters, played by actors Natascha Girgis and Graham Percy, who revolve around Sarah Roa’s Alice. Kadri reveals that all the “familiar suspects”—including the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Queen of Hearts, and the Dormouse—appear in the play, which will be presented this month at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.
“We’ve got an amazing cast of three actors, with Alice as the fulcrum and the two other actors playing all the madness and chaos around her,” Kadri says. “So it’s really an interesting and different way of representing this type of story.”
The director acknowledges that with a three-person cast, it required a great deal of innovation and imagination to make all of this work. He describes the set design as “a wonderful balance of high-fi and low-fi”, which includes beautiful, magical projections on-screen and simple, straightforward stagecraft.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, curiosity is the engine which drives this play,” he says. “As Alice jumps down the hole, she enters a truly bizarre, mad world, which challenges and frustrates her idea of what society should be.”
The lead character is constantly trying to work through her problems and finding the strength to overcome them. In fact, Kadri says that In Wonderland is really about personal growth.
“Anna [the playwright] really dived into the source material, but she has a lot of her touch in it, which is really exciting,” Kadri says. “She’s done a beautiful job of distilling those novels into an hour and 45 minutes.”
Alberta Theatre Projects created its version of In Wonderland as a touring show. Roa is based in Vancouver, and the two other actors are from Alberta.
Kadri sees parallels between the modern-day pandemic and what Alice is coping with. As an example, he mentions how people nowadays sometimes experience weird dreams and confusion about what time or day it is. He also says that Alice’s underlying anxiety and desire for an escape has permeated the psyche of people who worry about COVID-19.
Gateway Theatre is reducing the audience capacity in recognition of people’s concerns about the virus. This will accommodate physically distanced seating.
Cummer’s play is presented along the lines of a variety show, which will include musical numbers, poetry, and slapstick.
“The fun part is seeing these actors transform in a moment—in a blink—into these new characters with new costumes, new affectations, new voices, and new physicality,” Kadri says.