Shakespeare By The Sea opens its first show of the season with Alice in Wonderland. A remount of a previous production, the family show will run in repertoire this summer with Othello and Twelfth Night.
This barbershop musical has Alice (Melissa McGoogan) fall through the rabbit hole to learn an important lesson about self-confidence. The show features lush music by Jeremy Hutton and a quippy script developed by the cast.
This Wonderland is populated by a huge host of strange creatures. Simon Rainville’s White Rabbit is delightfully mincing as the catalyst to our story. A charming chorus of cards (Garry Williams, Jeremy Hutton, Shanoa Philips and Drew O’Hara) set the scene with their thick harmonies. But it’s Kathryn McCormack and Jade Douris really make the show shine, together as The Caterpillar—what was that? I want a whole show of that!—and individually as The Mad Hatter (McCormack), and The Dormouse and Margaret (Douris). McCormack has a rubbery face that allows expressions to travel all the way to the back of a theatre, and Douris’ foil to Alice is a joy to tolerate.
But can we talk about the Queen of Hearts? Thomas Gordon Smith plays the Queen of Hearts—she is angry, impulsive, petulant, stupid and bossy. Also, almost all of her lines are either fat jokes or tired pop-culture references. Occasionally, theatre professionals will seek me out for unpaid consultation as the resident loud trans girl in town and ask me if comedy drag in the English pantomime style is still an appropriate thing to put on stage. Maybe it’s not? This felt more misogynistic than transphobic at least. Maybe it’s not even the gender politics that I’m really annoyed about—maybe it’s just that it’s so overdone. I don’t know how this was written but the quality of jokes alone changes so drastically from the other characters to her—it’s like someone asked a 14-year-old who only watches TV from 2006 to write her dialogue. It’s worse than unfunny, it’s cheap and boring.
The show is not entirely cohesive, either—The Cheshire Cat, while brought to life with Peter Sarty’s aqueous performance and Bianca Tufford’s colourful costume, didn’t really do anything and broke the musical motifs, all while being queer-coded in a way that I think is benign. There are moments of lampshading that kinda felt like directorial laziness. There’s a weird white-person scream-rap. It kinda declares character growth without showing it. The choreography is at times shaky. At the end of the day, there's little negative that can’t be hand-waved away by “Eh, it’s a kids’ show.”
Side note: Alice in Wonderland follows a very simple plot so children can enjoy it, but the straightforwardness and tangibility of its goals makes me draw parallels between children’s theatre and action-adventure video games. Thoughts?
Pros and Cons of Outdoor Theatre
• Lateness is more easily forgiven
• Sometimes dogs run up on stage and snuggle with actors.
• Never have to worry about lighting.
• It might rain
• You might get distracted by seagulls
• The wind