The Hatter: The Mad workings of Wonderland

The Hatter
Venue 7
The PlayGround , 207 King St.
Troupe Name: Spired Theatre
Troupe Origin: Richmond, BC
Playwright: Andrew Wade
Featuring: Andrew Wade
Audience: Fine for all ages, but not specifically written for children.
Story-telling, tea party, epic battle scene
Show Length: 50min
Performances:, June 11, 2013 - 7:00p.m.
Wed., June 12 - 9:00 p.m., Thurs., June 13 - 7:00 p.m., Fri., June 14 - 9:00 p.m., Sat., June 15 - 7:00 p.m., Sun., June 16 - 4:00 p.m.

The Hatter has a lot going for it. The invitation to enter Wonderland starts early, with audience members greeted before the show by the title character, offering a cup of tea with some rather strange choices for condiments. The simple but effective set includes several china cups and saucers, each placed on the floor in front of a tiny stuffed animal, with plastic cutlery scattered about. None of the toy animals represents original guests at the tea party, such as the March Hare or Door Mouse, though they are mentioned later in the play. The eccentricity of the Hatter’s costume also reflects the overall ambience.

Much of the writing in the first part of the show is well done...clever and funny, with a polished, lyrical style. An invitation to sing “A Very Merry UnBirthday”, with words thoughtfully printed out in the Program, was well received by everyone. The first hint of a change in tone comes from an unflattering reference to Alice as a stupid girl. Wonderland was a helpfully distracting place till she paid a visit. Story is important to the Hatter: “It can save someone’s life for 1001 nights!” He then proceeds to read from a scroll, “The Albatross Made of Lead”, which darkens the mood further, although I think the analogy is not as neat as it could be.

Occasionally a disembodied female voice calls out from the back of the theatre, and there are increasing allusions to the Hatter’s other life, including a furious Queen, and appearances by other Wonderland characters being asked for help and advice. Wade portrays these skillfully, especially the contrary Cheshire Cat. Another group song, “God Shave The Queen”, doesn’t work as well as the first and adds little to the production.

As the Hatter’s story of “normal life’ unfolds, the language and play actually lose some of their power, even though the subject matter lends well to drama. The two voices of the Hatter and his other self are...and should be...different, but the contrasting tones don’t inform each other. Instead, the other self comes across as a bit too confessional and even preachy at times and the mood is diminished. I wonder if making more analogies between the characters of Alice and The Queen/s (Red and White), with those in the everyday tale (those similarities do exist) would bridge the gap a little?

The battle with The Jabberwocky is enjoyable theatre, with very good use of audience participation and well designed costumes and props to enhance the visual effect. The action ends on a somewhat positive note but I do think the warning about appropriate audience age needs to be stronger. There were two girls in our audience, one in Grade 9 and the other, who looked to be slightly younger. They enjoyed the play but I would question whether children under 10 should attend.      

The Hatter is an admirable effort and a worthwhile visit inside the mad workings of Wonderland.

  /  4

Susannah Joyce has published poetry and articles in various Canadian journals and has written a number of books on community involvement and people who have a disability. Recently she was a contributor to Jack Layton: Art in Action, Quattro Books. Theatre and film are ongoing passions and she is completing work on a two woman show based on characters from the novels of L.M Montgomery.