Review: Alice in Wonderland: A Tale with No Porpoise (No Porpoise Productions)

mooney alice

Using props and ensemble movement, Alice to Wonderland comes to life at Toronto’s Dancemakers

Whenever I notice that a production of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is coming to town, I always have to see it. This past Wednesday night, I went down to Dancemakers in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District to see how the new theatre troupe No Porpoise Productions might tackle this narrative in their inaugural show Alice and Wonderland: A Tale with No Porpoise.

Why do I have to see every production of Alice in Wonderland? It’s the kind of story that, when translated into theatre, unless you hire Tim Burton as your ‘set guy’ or you slip everyone in the audience LSD, presents the challenge of conveying perceptual and psychological realities that are all-encompassing and essential for the story’s success. When you read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, your imagination makes quick work of this, but how can these realities be conveyed through theatre?

No Porpoise Productions takes the worthwhile approach of translating this classic into “a ridiculous romp through a physical comedy of madness.” By trading in elaborate sets in exchange for physical choreography and resourceful use of minimal props, the creative team are on to something by staying away from a very literal translation of Alice in Wonderland’s world. They are attempting a more creative approach to stage this show, and in some instances, are truly able to capture the magic of Alice’s strange journey.

Many in the troupe have dance and movement experience, and this becomes evident in some of their very effective choreography. I felt, however, that throughout the show, there were many scenes where their apparent understanding of space and movement seemed to be lost on them. I did not notice until after the show that it was directed by two people, and that’s just interesting because while watching, I often felt that the production was very split in its style of storytelling. This particular show was very hit or miss with me.

There were a few scenes that really impressed me. When Alice grows to be a giant, there is a wonderfully staged exchange between Alice’s Left and Right foot, performed by actors Carolyn Lawrence and Chris George respectively. The way they conveyed the ‘reality’ of these huge legs standing next to each other and quarreling actually reminded me of this one art installation by world renowned artist Illya Kabacov. I can’t believe I’m referencing this guy, but there you have it! Brilliant scene I say!

Along the same lines, the troupe’s staging of Alice’s encounter with the purple caterpillar is nothing short of elegant. Making use of simple props and ensemble movement, 5 actors intertwine to become the Caterpillar, and all 10 hands and 50 fingers move together as one organism. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch. Caroyln Lawrence, being the Caterpillar’s head performs the Caterpillar’s character, and she consistently stuck out to me as a performer with great range and sense of timing.

But then we have these scenes that, in my humble opinion, were very uninspired. There’s a rap sequence that felt really dated, and a little desperate for laughs. It had me question to whom is this show playing? I don’t think even younger audiences are going to respond to backstreet boys references.

As the story progressed towards the end, I felt like the potential and talent of these performers got lost. The acting was good in my opinion, but the staging and transitions became manic and disjointed, and I was unable to stay engaged in Alice’s world.

In closing, I’ll say that it’s those little strokes of inspired staging I mentioned earlier that make me have faith in this company, and will follow their future projects.

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Photo provided by the company.