When Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre next week, she will enter a bizarre world that’s more Tim Burton than Walt Disney.
Albertus Koett, who is directing Central Alberta Theatre’s season-closing production, Alice In Wonderland, (which opens Thursday) said he’s always liked the Lewis Carroll story about a young girl’s dreamy adventures in a nonsensical land.
But he found the original 1865 tale to be more menacing than endearing.
With this in mind, Koett is determined to erase whatever lingering Disney whimsey is associated with Alice’s story. “The Disney movie was very colourful and cute and not too dangerous. In our play, Alice doesn’t have too many friends,” said Koett, with a chuckle.
“We are taking a harsher approach.”
Still, he plans to keep the play somewhat lighter in tone than Burton’s breakthrough horror-comedy movie Beetlejuice. The script written by Anne Coulter Martens contains plenty of humour and doesn’t quite lend itself to the perilous depths Koett had initially envisioned.
“It’s not going to be scary, just darker,” said the Red Deer College theatre alumni who believes the production is appropriate for anyone aged seven or older.
The audience will be reintroduced to Carroll’s odd assortment of contradictory characters — the Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, Duchess, and Queen of Hearts, as well as several favorites from the Through the Looking-Glass sequel, including Humpty Dumpty and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
But Koett has taken liberties with the familiar. For instance, he’s stripped the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat of all their animal fuzziness so the two anthropomorphic creatures appear more as people with animalistic traits.
“We’re not sure if the Cheshire Cat is really a friend to Alice,” said the director who likes the daydreaming aspect of the tale.
“Sometimes we’d all like to escape to another world.”
The novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland evolved out of a story an Oxford mathematician, really named Charles Dodgson, made up for his young friend Alice Liddell during a lazy afternoon boat ride. The book that twists and plays with logic was an immediate hit with adults and children when it was released, and has never been out of print.
Alice’s adventures have inspired artists of every generation: In 1967, rock group Jefferson Airplane wrote the drug-themed classic White Rabbit; in 1985, Tom Petty created a video for his tune Don’t Come Around Here No More that ends with a hallucinatory tea party at which Alice becomes the cake.
The Alice in this play (performed by 17-year-old Jessica Mayhew) will also be thrown into situations in which she is overwhelmed and uncomfortable, but in the end she holds her own in the face of adversity, said Koett. “It’s a hard fight — everywhere she goes, she is accosted and pushed around.
“She’s under a constant barrage of criticism about the way she looks, the way she talks and thinks, but this story is all about growing up and standing up for yourself.” And in the end Alice knows her rights and does not back down.
Koett, who previously directed one-act plays, believes Alice has been the perfect vehicle for his first foray into a feature-length production, because each scene is like a short play unto itself.
He credits his 29-person cast as having lived up to his expectations of professionalism. With sets by Patrick Beagan and costumes by Rik Van Dyke, theatre-goers should expect “a real feast for the eyes. This is a real must-see show.”
What: Central Alberta Theatre presents Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, adapted by Anne Coulter Martens
When: 7:30 p.m., June 11-21
Where: Memorial Centre, Red Deer
Tickets: $19 ($15 for students and seniors) from Black Knight Ticket Centre