ALCHEMY THEATRE, Studio 1398, 8th – 18th December

My Two Pence


By Liz Gloucester

            Wow. Wonderland is a nonsensical dream world but for the audience, at times it was like living inside a nightmare. Some good work and ideas were totally overshadowed by a mass of badly chosen work and concepts as well as over complicated set changes. These were done by a combination of cast and stage hands that everybody was clearly uncomfortable with and unsure about.

            The audience is greeted by the White Rabbit not-so-patiently waiting for the house to open. The gimmick continues with her trying to rouse the crowd into sitting for fear of them not being ready for the Queen. I felt sorry for this actor, trying to hold her own for such a long period of time but having very little material, so that after recycling her 'Oh dears' for twenty minutes she had given away all of her character traits for the future purposes of the show. Maybe she could have gone off and come back on periodically if she had to.

            During the first Act the audience was treated to a barrage of screaming. Now in a world where not a lot makes sense, the understanding of said world becomes a world more difficult when diction and meaning are cloaked in screeches and unfocused physicality. Confusion aside, it also then meant that the long awaited entrance and play of iconic character the Queen of Hearts, who should be screaming, was diminished and the pronounced, psychotic thought I saw go into Charlotte Wright's portrayal was lost under others' inferior acting.  

            The actors on the whole should be praised for their ability to get through this performance with the myriad of costume changes, set changes, props required, verses to recite and puppets to manipulate. The ambition of this production was vast. Had they had more time to rehearse, tech and work out the big picture as well as the finer details it would have been better. Hopefully by the end of the run some of these smaller things will improve, if not just so the audience doesn't hear them apologising to each other in the wing for having forgotten to take off a table. What might not improve though is the scattered performances, each mad character trying to outdo the last mad character when really scenes would have been much more effective and less exhausting for the audience had there been more grounding, stillness and dare I say it?- silence. I cannot imagine what the chaos must have been offstage- there was so much of it onstage.

            There were rare moments in which the actors could take a break from their Herculean tasks - when the production made use of the multimedia screen, voiceover and soundtrack. The audience, alas, could not. These three aspects of production were baffling to say the least. Why a character so rich as the Cheshire Cat was reduced to a frankly terrifying graphic reminiscent of Korn's 'Word Up' video (which if anyone remembers was bloody awful) - is anyone's guess. The voiceovers for the mice were hard to hear a lot of the time but the robotic prologue was appalling. With a cast of eleven to choose from including two authentically british actors who could have set the scene beautifully the decision was made to record someone incapable of vocal emotion. Lastly in this hat-trick of absurdity was the sound design which was both sparse and unbefitting in places. Now I might be wrong but I'm pretty sure that during Alice's fall down 'the rabbit hole' the theme from Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands was playing. These curiouser and curiouser choices were then starkly juxtaposed with the actors' a cappella singing which while technically well performed is still exhausting for an audience to have to sit through sans instruments.

            The highlight of the night was Ann-Marie Zak as the Mock Turtle who was an alleviating sight of control and comedic timing amidst the wave of amateurism that ran rampant throughout this production. Including an actor wearing fully viewable sport imprinted socks as The Mad Hatter. Were they sponsored? I doubt it. This is from Alchemy Theatre, a leading company of community theatre in Vancouver- if this is the standard then maybe all the city is good for is one-liners and commercials.

(My rating here is for sheer effort of actors carrying on valiantly.)