BWW Review: Take a Tumble down the Rabbit Hole in the Delightful ALICE AND THE BOOK OF WONDERLAND at Annapolis Shakespeare Company
The delightful production of ALICE AND THE BOOK OF WONDERLAND, produced by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company (ASC) has found a way to make the story of Alice in Wonderland new and fresh for children and adults alike. That's no easy feat. Alice in Wonderland is a reliable classic that most people know back to front. What ASC has managed to do is keep all the standard parts of the story that everyone loves, while telling the story in an entirely new and creative way. They've also managed to throw a few very funny nods in to current events that seem to bring the classic further into current times.
As we were informed before the show, ALICE AND THE BOOK OF WONDERLAND is the first show produced in ASC's new theater space on West Street in Annapolis. While the theater is small - about 125 seats - the space is not cramped or claustrophobic. The designers left plenty of room for the stage as well as the seats. It's a comfortable space for the audience, and it seemed to work well for the actors as well.
It was quite clear that the designers and director were comfortable in the space, based on the impressive staging - one of the standouts in this production. Instead of using intricate set pieces and props, the show relies on projections to set scenes. Throughout the show, the original illustrations from Lewis Carroll's novel were projected on the back wall of the stage. This really helped to sell characters that were dressed a bit more abstractly. For instance, there wasn't an actor dressed as a Caterpillar - however, when an actor appeared on stage smoking a hookah and the caterpillar was projected behind him, it all made perfect sense.
The projections also helped with the more fantastical elements of the story. It's difficult to show Alice literally falling down a rabbit hole, but with the help of swirling lights and projections, it made Alice's tumble into Wonderland all the more believable. And the use of projections didn't end there. The Cheshire Cat was projected on the wall as well, interacting with Alice throughout the show. I'm fairly certain the actor playing the Cat was pre-recorded. This made the interactions all the more impressive. The timing of the actors was spot-on. No one spoke over the recording, and there were no strange lags in the story while we waited for the recording to continue. This masterful fete of technology was a tribute to both the actors and the stage hands.
However good the technology was, this show wouldn't have existed without the cast and what a fabulous cast they were. ALICE AND THE BOOK OF WONDERLAND is chock full of very distinct characters. Instead of casting different actors to play all of the different roles, there were only a handful of actors switching back and forth seamlessly between parts; all the while feigning believable British accents. Each actor - aside from Alice - played 2-3 characters throughout the show. I can only imagine how difficult it is to remember one part, let alone 2 or 3 others. They were funny and dynamic and had great chemistry with each other. The actors seemed to be having a blast playing the more exaggerated character beats, such as the nervousness of the white rabbit or the sheer disdain of the red queen. These actors were able to make characters we all know and love, feel like brand new people through the use of clever costuming and superb acting.
Another way to make a show feel fresh is to add nods to current events where appropriate. Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken, the writers of this particular telling of Alice in Wonderland, understood that and took the chance to add in a few well-known; let's say, figures of speech, of today. At one point Alice is told that she can't enter Wonderland because of a "travel ban". "Covefe", the Russians, and "alternative facts" were also all mentioned at one point or another. Some of the references worked better than others, but they did succeed in connecting an old story to the 21st century. These gags are also a sly way to amuse parents who may be attending for their children's sake. Either way, these nods to our current world, made the story of Alice seem a bit more real and a bit more believable. And honestly, who wouldn't want to believe in a bit of fantasy these days?
Overall, this production was superb. As this was the first show produced in their new space, I'm more than excited to see what the ASC does next. With this talented group of actors, designers, and technicians, the sky really is the limit.