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Monday, 30 June 2014

The Stratford Festival and Stratford Perth Museum present A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Shakespeare’s First Folio in Stratford On loan from the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library

MEDIA RELEASE June 25, 2014… The Stratford Festival is delighted to partner with the Stratford Perth Museum this season to present an unprecedented viewing of the 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s works, made available by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.

Only 232 copies of this cultural treasure, known as Shakespeare’s First Folio, remain in the world today. The volume held by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is the only Canadian-held copy.

“The First Folio has been described as the most important work in the English language,” says Anita Gaffney, the Festival’s Executive Director. “We feel very fortunate to be able to offer our patrons, who are committed lovers of Shakespeare, an opportunity to view this treasured artifact during this year of celebration.”

“The publication of the collected plays in 1623 marked the first time eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays, including this season’s Antony and Cleopatra, appeared in print. Its importance can hardly be over-estimated and therefore we are very pleased to take advantage of the opportunity during this anniversary year to make the First Folio available to a broad audience beyond our four walls,” says Anne Dondertman, Director of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

“The Stratford Perth Museum couldn’t be happier or prouder to have been included in this remarkable opportunity by the Stratford Festival and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library,” says John Kastner, the Museum’s General Manager. “To be able to display one of the most important historic works in English literature, even for a few days, is humbling and incredibly exciting at the same time.”

The First Folio will be on display at the Museum on Saturday, August 16, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, August 17, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for this very special exhibition is $15.

Second exhibition opens next week
featuring the birds and beasts of the Festival stage

The Stratford Perth Museum will also present a special exhibition called Festival Treasures: Creating the Wild Kingdom, showcasing unique pieces from the Festival Archives, from June 30 to October 12.

This fun-filled safari explores inventive ways of bringing birds and beasts to the stage. It will feature costumes, props, design sketches, audio-visual material, documents and photographs to illustrate the process of creating pieces for Festival productions of The Birds, Peter Pan, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many others.

“It is such an honour to be able to partner with the Stratford Festival,” says Mr. Kastner. “We think the Museum is the perfect venue to showcase the Festival’s history. The theatre plays such an important part in who we are in Perth County and we are so excited to be able to help tell that story.”

“From hockey to agriculture to industry and now theatre, John and the Board at the Stratford Perth Museum are doing an outstanding job of connecting the Museum to our very special community,” says Ms Gaffney. “We are delighted to collaborate with the Museum on an exhibition of our archival materials and hope the collaboration serves to broaden the audience for both the Festival and the Museum.”

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, $3 for children, free for museum members. Tickets are available through the Stratford Festival at 1.800.567.1600 or www.stratfordfestival.ca, or at the Stratford Perth Museum, 4275 Huron Road, Stratford.

The 2014 season of the Stratford Festival runs until October 12, featuring King Lear; Crazy for You; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Man of La Mancha; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Hay Fever; King John; Mother Courage and Her Children; Antony and Cleopatra; Christina, The Girl King; A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Play; and more than 200 events in the Stratford Festival Forum.


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Friday, 20 June 2014

Crazy for You becomes first Stratford Festival cast recording

MEDIA RELEASE     

Members of the company, Crazy for You.
Photo: Cylla von Tidemann
June 17, 2014… The magic of the Stratford Festival’s hit musical Crazy for You has been immortalized in the first full-length cast recording in the Festival’s history. The album is filled with beloved Gershwin tunes and a sensational cast bursting with talent: who could ask for anything more?

“I am thrilled to announce Stratford’s very first cast recording – something we have wanted to do for many years,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “We are so lucky to have some of the greatest artists in the world with us each season. It is extremely important to us to preserve and share their extraordinary talents. This recording, together with our plans for Stratford@Play, which will see us film up to three productions a year, are exciting advances, which will take the Festival’s work to an even larger audience.”

Described as “a rollicking, rhythmic delight” by the Toronto Star’s Richard Ouzounian and “a shot of adrenaline” by The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck, Crazy for You is already one of the hottest tickets of the 2014 season. Specially conceived for the Festival stage by director and choreographer Donna Feore, the production features Natalie Daradich as Polly Baker, Josh Franklin as Bobby Child and Tom Rooney as Bela Zangler.

Featuring all 31 cast members as well as 21 musicians led by Conductor and Musical Director Shelley Hanson, the album is packed with classic Gershwin songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Musical Numbers

Act I
Overture/Kr-a-zy For You – Bobby
I Can’t Be Bothered Now – Bobby, Follies Girls
Bidin’ My Time – Mingo, Sam, Moose
Could You Use Me?/Shall We Dance? – Bobby, Polly Girls Enter Nevada – Company
Someone to Watch Over Me – Polly
Slap That Bass – Bobby and Company
Embraceable You – Polly, Bobby
I Got Rhythm – Polly and Company

Act II
The Real American Folk Song (Is a Rag) – Mingo, Sam, Moose and Company
What Causes That? – Bela, Bobby
Naughty Baby – Irene, Lank
Stiff Upper Lip – Patricia, Eugene and Company
They Can’t Take That Away From Me/But Not For Me – Bobby/Polly
Nice Work If You Can Get It – Bobby, Follies Girls

The album is available for purchase at the Stratford Festival Shop. To purchase online, visit iTunes or CD Baby at http://cdbaby.com/cd/crazyforyou.

The album was produced by Peter McBoyle and Franklin Brasz.

Crazy for You is a high-energy romantic comedy telling the story of Bobby Child, son of a banking magnate, who is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a derelict theatre but unexpectedly falls for its owner’s daughter, Polly Baker.

Crazy for You plays at the Stratford Festival until October 12. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

With music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and book by Ken Ludwig, Crazy for You was co-conceived by Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent. The musical was inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan, and originally produced on Broadway by Roger Horchow and Elizabeth Williams.

Crazy for You is co-sponsored by Union Gas Limited and RBC. Production support is generously provided by Riki Turofsky and Charles Petersen. Support for the 2014 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Claire and Daniel Bernstein.

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Martha Henry to receive 2014 Legacy Award

MEDIA RELEASE

 June 12, 2014The Stratford Festival is delighted to present its 2014 Legacy Award to Martha Henry. Her extraordinary contributions to the Festival and to the performing arts in Canada will be celebrated at a gala at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel on Monday, September 29.
Martha Henry
Photo courtesy of the Stratford Festival
“Martha is not only the heart but also the soul of the Festival and it is an enormous pleasure to celebrate her legacy,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

“Martha came here at a very young age and her remarkable talents immediately placed her at the forefront of the company, playing principal and leading roles with some of the greatest actors in the world. She was an inspiration for directors as diverse in their practices as Michael Langham and Robin Phillips. Over the years, she has become an extraordinarily skilled director and a leader within the Canadian theatre community. She believes in us and always manages to draw from us our very best work.”

Ms Henry’s relationship with the Festival, now in its sixth decade, has been crucial to the theatre’s success and has enriched the cultural landscape of this country immeasurably. A Companion of the Order of Canada, a Member of the Order of Ontario and a recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms Henry has performed in almost 70 productions in her 40 seasons at Stratford and has directed ten more.

She has served as the Director of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre since 2007, training dozens of the country’s most promising classical actors, and mentoring and inspiring countless others throughout her career. Her contributions to theatre, film and television have been celebrated with five Genie Awards, two Betty Mitchell Awards, a Toronto Drama Desk Award, a New York Theatre World Award, three Gemini Awards and seven honorary doctorates. She has also been made a Lifetime Member of Actors’ Equity.

Ms Henry made her Stratford debut in 1962, playing Miranda to William Hutt’s Prospero in The Tempest. She and Mr. Hutt went on to share the stage numerous times, notably as Mary and James Tyrone in 1994’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, an unforgettable production that was reprised in 1995 and then filmed, winning Ms Henry a Genie for Best Actress in 1996.

Among the actors to have starred opposite Ms Henry at Stratford are Peter Donat (Troilus to her Cressida); John Colicos (Berowne to her Rosaline, and Lear to her Cordelia); Christopher Newton (Orsino to her Viola, and Oberon to her Titania); Nicholas Pennell (Grandier to her Jeanne, and Bertram to her Helena); Alan Scarfe (Benedick to her Beatrice, and Navarre to her Princess of France); and Peter Donaldson (Trigorin to her Arkadina, and George to her Martha).

Ms Henry famously reprised the role of Beatrice with another of her beloved leading men, Brian Bedford, in 1998’s Much Ado About Nothing, a production that toured to New York and was fondly remembered in the New York Times recently among the great Shakespeare performances of our day. The two also shared the stage as Richard III and Lady Anne, and Angelo and Isabella in Measure for Measure.

She has played so many of Shakespeare’s women that her list of credits reads like a trivia challenge for aficionados: Miranda, Lady Macduff, Cressida, Luciana, Phrynia, Rosaline, Cordelia, Lady Percy, Joan la Pucelle, Viola, Titania, Desdemona, Thaisa, Constance, Isabella, both Helenas, Lady Anne, Beatrice, Paulina, the Princess of France, Doll Tearsheet, Goneril, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth, Cymbeline’s Queen, Queen Eleanor, the Countess of Rossillion and Queen Margaret.

Her more contemporary roles include Olga in Three Sisters, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Mrs. Alving in Ghosts, Agnes in A Delicate Balance, Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, Regina in The Little Foxes, and, most recently, Prof in John Murrell’s TakingShakespeare, directed by Diana Leblanc in the 2013 season. 

As a director at the Festival, her productions include Brief Lives (featuring Douglas Rain), Richard II (Geordie Johnson), Richard III (Tom McCamus), Antony and Cleopatra (Peter Donaldson and Diane D’Aquila), Of Mice and Men (featuring Graham Greene), An Enemy of the People (featuring David Fox), Three Sisters (featuring Lucy Peacock and Tom McCamus), Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex (featuring Diane D’Aquila, Brent Carver and Peter Hutt), Measure for Measure (featuring Geraint Wyn Davies and Tom Rooney), and this season’s Mother Courage and Her Children (Seana McKenna). 

The 2014 Legacy Award Gala will include tributes, music and entertainment presented by members of the Stratford Festival company and other extraordinary guests in celebration of Ms Henry’s career.  It will be a rare opportunity to join with some of Canada’s finest actors and musicians in acknowledgement of a lifetime of dedication to Canadian theatre.

The 2014 Legacy Award Gala is co-chaired by Barry Avrich, Sylvia D. Chrominska and Nada Ristich.

Table and ticket reservations are available by emailing rsmithspencer@stratfordfestival.ca or calling 519.271.4040, ext. 2402.


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Monday, 9 June 2014

Review: King John (or, Why, the critic asks, is this play not produced more often?)

King John, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Carroll
Designed by Carolyn M. Smith
 
Tom McCamus as King John.
Photo: David Hou
The story: The crown of England is in dispute. John is brother and heir to the previous King, Richard the Lionheart, and has their indomitable mother Eleanor's backing. But John's nephew Arthur is the rightful heir to the crown in the eyes of the church, being the son of John's older but deceased brother, Geoffrey. While Arthur's mother Constance finds a champion for her son in Philip of France, John vows to battle the usurping nation. A brief truce crumbles when the Pope's representative excommunicates John and threatens France with the same, and a series of bad decisions leaves John's followers doubtful of his ability to lead. When the dust is settled England does indeed have a true ruler, but it is one for whom neither John nor Constance would have wished.

As with most history plays, Shakespeare collapsed events and ignored some facts for the art of storytelling. The storytelling of King John - one of England's most notoriously bad rulers - is not the stuff of King Lear or Julius Caesar, by any stretch, it is merely a recitation of a number of events that marked John's kingly career. Most of the characters are therefore a little two-dimensional, and it is history, so there is a lot of talky explanation.

This is not a bad thing, but it does explain why the second half of this play is notoriously slow compared to the first half, where we get to meet a fellow like Philip the Bastard. But looked at as an examination of a particularly inept leader, and in particular the politics surrounding him, this play is quite fascinating, in any age. Inept leaders, bad decisions, political battles... heck, it is all playing out in Ontario on June 11 as much as it did in the middle ages. (So, why is this play not produced more often, and in modern settings?)

Tim Carroll, responsible for last year's attempt at an Original Practices Romeo and Juliet on the Festival Stage, has shifted locales to the Tom Patterson stage - a much more intimate setting - and goes about recreating another historical atmosphere, that of a Blackfriar's theatre. Bare stage, medieval music, Elizabethan costumes and about ten two-tiered candelabras set the mood - the creative team of Carolyn M Smith (costume and set design), Kevin Fraser (lighting), Claudio Vena (composer) and Todd Charlton (sound design) knew that they were doing. The very first appearance by the full cast is spine-chilling thanks to them - singing in multiple harmony, in Latin, something that sounded far more fierce than holy, moving with sombre, Elizabethan courtly steps - it transports one instantly.
Wayne Best as Hubert; Tom McCamus as King John.
Photo: David Hou
And despite not-so-generous reviews for his last Stratford production, Mr. Carroll seems to have hit a stride with the cast he assembled for King John. In the title role Tom McCamus is a study of an unstable personality, all bravura in the first half of the play and desperately nervy the next. It is intriguing to imagine what his King John would be like set in a modern-day boardroom or cabinet-meeting (probably quite recognizable).

John's nemesis Constance is played by Seana McKenna. Whereas her other major role this summer - Mother Courage - is quite unmaternal and emotionally suppressed, in Constance Ms. McKenna unleashes the power of Mother with a capital M. To see both productions back to back is to be awed by her ability.

In the role of Philip the Bastard - a heroic character created by Shakespeare for his audiences - Graham Abbey has mined far more humour from the role than seems present at first (or second or third) reading. He is aided in this by Sean Arbuckle's cowardly-lionesque Duke of Austria, who keeps one eye peeled for the Bastard at all times in a twitchy sort of way.

There is solid work from Antoine Yared as the Dauphin, finally allowed to break from the foppish and simple characters he has heretofore inhabited, and Stephen Russell and Brad Rudy as the Earls Salisbury and Pembroke, respectively. These two veterans never fail to deliver the weighty goods, and Mr. Russel in particular creates great empathy for a character whose role is fairly fleeting. Wayne Best (Hubert), Jennifer Mogbock (Blanche) and Patricia Collins (Queen Eleanor) also exhibit some fine talent.
  
Despite King John only being staged four times previously at the Stratford Festival, this play demands a bigger and more appreciative audience.  Plan on seeing it before it closes on September 20th at the Tom Patterson Theatre, where it is playing in repertory.

Graham Abbey as Philip the Bastard.
Photo: David Hou

PS: Planning on bringing some younger budding fans of the Bard? Here's a bit of introductory fun - just keep in mind Shakespeare rearranged events (and facts) for the stage. Horrible Histories: King John

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Review: Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children, by Bertolt Brecht
Translated by David Edgar
Directed by Martha Henry
Designed by John Pennoyer
EB Smith as Eilif, Seana McKenna as Mother Courage, Carmen Grant as Kattrin,
Antoine Yared as Swiss Cheese. Photo: David Hou.

The Story: Anna Fierling, known as Mother Courage, ekes out a living for herself and her three children by pulling a wagon canteen through the battlefields of Europe during the Thirty-Years War. She barters and sells provisions to soldiers of either side and offers fealty to none.

How does one describe a character like Mother Courage? The very text refers to her as "a hyena of the battlefield" and at least one translation calls her a "war profiteer". Brecht himself re-wrote the part after its initial opening drew audiences' admiration for the role - he intended her to be an anti-heroine, unlikeable, representative of the lowest common denominator in war-time. She is a truth-teller without wisdom, an unmaternal mother, a capitulator of the highest order. There is nothing inspirational about her.

Which makes Martha Henry's direction somewhat unBrechtian, but Seana McKenna's portrayal perfect. Ms. Henry's production is inspired in its spareness - the set is nothing more than a chopping block, the props mostly contained in the wagon, the costumes a mish-mash of whatever would be cobbled together during a long, drawn-out war. Ms. Henry uses Brect's techniques of epic theatre to great effect, keeping the audience in full awareness they are watching a piece of fiction, but the performances draw us in nevertheless.

Ms McKenna is all business as Mother Courage - quite apt for the character. No needless gesturing, no quavers in her voice betraying any inner emotion, even as she loses her children to war, their own 'virtues' and her own calculated actions. There are certainly sparks emitting between her character and Geraint Wyn Davies' Cook - an aging, charismatic Don Juan - but other than that and two wrenchingly difficult scenes involving her children, Ms. McKenna's Mother Courage is all Brecht would have her to be. With perhaps one exception...

The chemistry between Ms. McKenna and Carmen Grant who plays the mute, sensitive Kattrin, might be too palpable for Brecht, but is wonderful to witness as a member of the audience. Kattrin is a character written to contrast Mother Courage - maternal but an old(er) maid, expressive though she cannot speak, the character who is most apt to be called the heroine as in the end she refuses to capitulate and pays with her life. Ms. Grant and Ms McKenna resemble each other enough to sell the relationship of daughter-mother, but it goes deeper than that - the characters have their own silent language that even Kattrin's brother's do not understand.  Of all the memorable characters and horrific moments in this play, it is Ms. Grant's sweet and stalwart Kattrin who will tug at the heartstrings, but it is the mother-daughter relationship with which most will identify.

For the rest, EB Smith gives the character of Eilif a twitchy energy that breathes more life into him than the text suggests while Antoine Yared's Swiss Cheese (yes, that's the character's name) is the polar opposite, all inner-monologue without much thought to the reality of events. Ben Carlson's careful study of the Chaplain shows this character to be a thoughtful man, but lost all the same, and Deidre Gillard-Rowling and Jamie Mac provide a hearty breath of fresh salt-air as the lusty Yvette Pottier and foul-mouthed Young Soldier (only Newfoundlanders have truly mastered the art of the F-bomb. That's a compliment.*)

One bone to pick with this production is the music, composed by Keith Thomas. It was somewhat enjoyable, and as plentiful as the text demands but not very powerful. (Perhaps this was a fault of the new translation, provided by David Edgar, but given his tremendously moving adaptation of Pentecost a few years ago, this is doubtful). So the songs of "Fraternization", "The Great Capitulation" are poignant and somewhat funny, but not particularly moving or memorable, and the scene of Mother Courage and Kattrin pulling their wagon through the winter as a nearby family sings of prosperity is almost invisible. Where some scores are designed to surreptitiously manipulate the emotions, Mr. Thomas' music did anything but - but then, that would suit Brecht to a T.

Mother Courage and Her Children continues until September 21 at the Tom Patterson Theatre.

Seana McKenna as Mother Courage (background); Carmen Grant as Kattrin (centre)
with members of the company. Photo: David Hou.


*I can say that. I'm from there.









Sunday, 1 June 2014

Review: Style defeats Substance. A Midsummer Night's Dream opens at Stratford

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Chris Abraham
Designed by Julie Fox

Chick Reid as Puck. Photo: Michael Cooper
The character Helena sums up  Chris Abraham's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream best...
             "Oh weary night, oh long and tedious night."

Let us go back to the play's beginning. A Midsummer Night's Dream is dated about 1595 or 6, and is set leading up to May Day, a traditional wedding day of the time. There is no record of it being performed in Shakespeare's lifetime, but given the framing device of a wedding between a Duke and a Queen, it is thought to have been commissioned for an important wedding celebration, and probably performed at court.*
Given this information, it appears Chris Abraham decided it would be fun to recreate the play's origins. It starts promisingly enough... the set is a summer's evening in a gorgeously lush backyard, twinkle-lights and flameless candles softly lighting the trees and pond. The actors mill and mingle about, interacting with the audience and acting as wedding guests, until the happy couple - two men - are led in and surprised by their friends. The gift - an impromptu performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the lover-couples will be a pair of women, and for anyone knowing this play of transformative love, this is a lovely, contemporary interpretation for a millenial audience.

In one respect, it is very sweet for guests at a wedding to be willing to appear foolish for their friends by putting on an amateur show. But it descends so very quickly into a series of predictable cheap laughs, cut text, and cringe-worthy performances that it is insulting to both audience and some very fine actors made to appear simply ridiculous.  And the audience  is not actually at a wedding, and they have not paid money to see an amateur show.

The text was not just cut, it was mashed and hashed and reworked to fit the director's choices. Sure, Shakespeare himself was no shrinking violet when it came to working language to suit him - scholars still argue whether he is responsible for 400 or 1500 new words and phrases added to the English language. But Chris Abraham is no Shakespeare. His director's notes in the house program actually contradicts those of the Shakespeare scholar who contributed the program notes, which indicates not only does he not respect the text, he cares little about the audience too.

Why else would he cut acres of text to be delivered by the likes of Stephen Ouimette as Bottom? Dream has some of the finest poetry in the entire Bardic canon, and such lines were sacrificed so that a food-fight, wet-t-shirt contest and cheesy 80's ballads could be inserted while a group of diminutive fairies sings Bruno Mars.

Yes, the children were adorable fairies. But every cute fairy, each allusion to Blackberrys or light sabres, all the inserted contemporary slang ("like, waaaay too much") is all very affecting - as in, it takes the audience right out of the play and we have to fight our way back in again. Student audiences are going to love it, no doubt about it, but it is the worst kind of self-indulgent staging.

Evan Buliung as Titania, Jonathan Goad as Oberon.
Photo: Michael Cooper
Now. Close your eyes to listen to Jonathan Goad's Oberon and in the more quiet moments you will hear something akin to true magic (sometimes Evan Buliung will be playing the role instead). Squint your eyes and try to see the impishly delightful Chick Reid as a Puck in a setting more suited to her talent. Block out the nonsense and focus on Scott Wentworth's worth as a truly noble Theseus. Watch Tara Rosling's impassioned Lysander in the first act and let that memory carry you through the remainder of the evening. And yes, lament for the lost opportunity to see Stephen Ouimette shine as Nick Bottom, and try to forget how utterly misused are Barbara Fulton and Brad Hodder. Forget, but don't forgive it.

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues in repertory until October 11 at the Festival Theatre.

Cast members of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Photo: Michael Cooper
*Essential Shakespeare Handbook 1st American Edition. Dunton-Downer, Leslie, et al. DK Publishing, New York, NY, 2004

Review: Well played, Stratford, well played. Alice Through the Looking-Glass opens in at the Avon Theatre

Alice Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Adapted for the stage by James Reaney
Produced in association with Canada's National Arts Centre
Directed by Jillian Kelley
Choreographed by Dayna Tekatch
Designed by Bretta Gerecke

Trish Lindstrom as Alice. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
The Story: Alice, having been sent to her room "until she learns better manners", retreats into her imagination, which takes her into the world of her looking-glass, where everything happens backwards. As she makes her way across a giant chessboard to become a queen, she meets a wide range of impossible characters doing impossible things, until she begins to suspect she is in a dream - but whose dream is it?

Talk about a testament to the craftsmanship of the props and costumes departments at the Stratford Festival. An army of anti-Alices in blue-and-white dresses, wheeling around on an armada of bicycles attached to which are a forest of trees (onto which the leaves fall up) and giant flowers - not to mention the inevitable mess of Newtonian fluid that is all that is left of Humpty Dumpty after he takes his great fall off his great wall. And let us not forget the mile high or wide prop-wigs worn by the White and Red Queens that look like they weigh about ten pounds each. My neck hurts just thinking about it.
Brian Tree as Humpty Dumpty (centre) with Tom McCamus and Sarah Afful as Chorus Alices,
and Trish Lindstrom as Alice. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Well, it is a fantasy after all, things are bound to look quite fantastic, and the story makes about as much sense as adult rules do to the children like Alice who are expected to follow them. Director Jillian  Kelley's concept for the production is as clear as it is likely to get with such a story, the actors are given free reign to be as over-the-top as necessary, and the show often breaks the fourth wall - to great effect for an audience full of children.

In fact, since the Stratford Festival has marketed this production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass for children since the very start, I thought it only fair to let my review be written by  those for whom it was intended.

So at intermission I asked Ellie, Isaac, Berkeley and Miles if they were enjoying the show, and why. Ellie (age 6), wearing a sparkly mask in the true spirit of the show, answered with an enthusiastic "Yes! I want to know what will happen next!" and confessed she did not like the fire (sparklers, actually), "because" she explained quite awed, "I had the funny feeling it was real. But my favourite part was when she [Alice] touched the mirror and it went around and around - it was really cool!"
Cast members of Alice Through the Looking-Glass.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Miles (age 4) liked a different part. "Yeah," he said, "I liked when the bikes came out," referencing the bikes that became trees, flowers and other gigantic props, "but I like it all." (Miles also got to pull a giant rope in the second half of the show after intermission which no doubt became his personal highlight. I won't spoil what the rope-pulling wrought, but it was a delightfully sweet surprise.)

Isaac (age 5) had the same favourite character as the rest - Alice (played by Trish Lindstrom). "But I really liked when the Red Queen said, "Goodbye!" and jumped off the stage!" This was actress Cynthia Dale, literally throwing herself into the part, which the young audience definitely appreciated if Isaac was any indication.
Cynthia Dale as the Red Queen.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
But Berkeley (age 5) felt quite differently. When asked if she was enjoying the show, she answered with a grave frown and shake of the head. Oh dear. "Why not, Berkeley?" I asked. "It's too confusing," she said, still grave, and patted her cheek. Her grandmother Gretchen explained, "she didn't understand the part about the gnat, and it bothered her" referencing the talking bug that is both an actor behind Alice an invisible mite that Alice keeps swatting at and eventually smites (by accident). At this point Berkeley was pulling out a recent purchase from the gift shop and leafing through it - a copy of Alice in Wonderland. "Berkeley, do you think you'll enjoy the book more than the play?" I asked.  "YES!" came the emphatic reply. Oh dear.

Ok, so we head into the second half of the play, where the Lion and the Unicorn (Tyrone Savage and Gareth Potter respectively) have a boxing / karate / mixed-martial-arts battle, we meet Humpty Dumpty on his great wall - played to absolute perfection by Brian Tree with assistance from two of the anti-Alice Army - and where the White Knight (Rylan Wilkie) vanquishes the Red Knight (John Kirkpatrick), serenades Alice, Alice finally becomes a queen and returns to her own home.

Sarah Orenstein as the White Queen.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
My personal highlights? Sarah Orenstein as a delightful White Queen, bouncing around with that mile-high wig, and Brian Tree's Humpty Dumpty, incidentally the only actor whose English accent didn't sound put on because he is English, and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it-for-adults-only Last Supper tableau (cheeky, wot?)

But back to the critics who matter. I tracked some of them down at shows' end.
Rylan Wilkie as the White Knight.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Kaelynn (age 4) loved the Red Queen, and when the White Knight sang to Alice (a future musical theatre aficionado, methinks).  Her brother Kaine (age 5) loved Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Liverpudlian-sounding Sanjay Talwar and Mike Nadajewski respectively) pulling Alice into a game of Ring Around the Rosie, and adamantly did NOT like "the part where they put her [Alice] in her room." Understandably.

Sanjay Talwar as Tweedledee, Trish Lindstrom as Alice and Mike Nadajewski as Tweedledum.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Clare (age 10) thought the whole thing "very cool. The streamers and jellybeans were unexpected." (Oh, spoiler alert!) Clare also felt that Trish Lindstrom "captured a 7 and-a-half-year-old exactly." Her mom Maureen loved the cross-dressing Alices, which reminded her of a Mark Morris ballet. "It just flips things in your brain so you see things in a new way," she explained. "It challenges preconceived ideas. I really enjoyed it."

Cast members of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
And at this point Berkeley (age 5), our harshest critic, came running up. "I really liked the second part!" she burst out. "Humpty Dumpty was funny." Her grandmother Gretchen chimed in. "She perked up a lot with the jellybeans," she chuckled.

Well played, Stratford!

Alice Through the Looking-Glass continues in repertory until October 12.  The forecast for each performance is bright, with a brief shower of jellybeans.

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