Saturday, 13 December 2014

Through a glass (with liquorice)

We've had an autumn chockfull of theatre this year - mainly because most of the plays we wanted to see this season at the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company were on between October and December.

Winter starts next week (all evidence to the contrary - as usual, we've had an early start in Hades) and will be full of concerts, thank heavens, but we're finishing our own theatre season with NAC English Theatre production of Alice Through the Looking Glass which has been imported from the Stratford (as in Ontario) Festival, and performed by this year's repertory players of the National Arts Centre English Theatre.  We had already seen some of these delightful actors in an October production of The Importance of Being Earnest (and there were a few returns from last year's company).

I had an inkling we were in for an intriguing afternoon when the Resident Fan Boy explained to younger daughter that the backwards writing on the curtain was on a backdrop showing a hazy reflection of the NAC Theatre.  This made me look, and I noticed that the real table with chess pieces and the real armchair positioned at the edge of the stage were also reflected - in paint, on the drop curtain - like in an uneven mirror, a trompe-lœl.

Now, such attention to detail doesn't guarantee a good show. Consider the lacklustre live television version of Peter Pan which aired on NBC last week -- beautiful design, odd choices in casting and direction.  However, as this show began, I was immediately beguiled by the looking glass in the drawing room, before realizing that the props held up to it were not reflections. I didn't catch on to this until Alice climbed up on to the mantelpiece and another Alice climbed up in perfect replication.

In fact, it was a stage full of Alices who didn't hold hold still long enough to be counted until the second act.  There were at least thirteen "anti-Alices" who had brown wigs and blue frocks with white prints to create a photo-negative image of Alice - no matter their build, complexion or sex.  Whenever a cast member wasn't being a character in Through the Looking Glass, she or he became a looking-glass Alice masquerading as a soldier cleaning up after the extremely messy demise of Humpty Dumpty, or a shelf in the sheep's shop.  (Look, if you don't know the story you'll have to read the book or go see the play -- if you can get tickets.)

I was particularly charmed by being periodically showered by bubbles, streamers, and jelly beans (some of them were liquorice!), and by the poignant and strange song from the White Knight played by long-legged Alex McCooeye who resembled every cartoon of Don Quixote you've ever seen.
After the actors had taken their bow - backs to the audience, of course - the show seemed to follow me out into the lobby where the world briefly appeared strange and lovely, as if seen through rippled glass.

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