Aspiring set and costume designers will love the Shaw Festival’s Alice in Wonderland, as will anyone who remembers the book with fondness. Others not so much.
The production itself is spectacular. There is a stunning merge of audiovisual effects with the stage that is playful (the drinking of the potions), eerie (the pop-up appearances of the Cheshire Cat), terrifying (Alice drowning in her ocean of tears), and peaceful (the skiff on the river). The technology magically extends the meaning of ‘set.’ The costumes match the quality of the production. They are colourful, richly designed and creative. As one expects at Shaw, the actors are uniformly superb in their roles. Alice (played by Tara Rosling) is onstage for the entire production and never once flags.
So why my reservations? Once into the play I remembered I had never really enjoyed the book. There are points of clever wordplay but the story has always lacked an emotional core for me. How Alice emerges from a dream believing she has grown up is as much a mystery to me today as it was decades ago.
If you have fond memories of the story, then see the play. If you cannot recall your impressions of the book, then take along an observant, artistic and inquisitive child. Had I done so, I may have enjoyed the production more than I did.
Alice in Wonderland is playing at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 16, 2016.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of one family’s journey through palliative care.