Audiences get up close and personal with Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland recently took centre stage and the space above it at Nathan Phillips Square.

Theater Gajes, a theatre troupe from the Netherlands, put a new spin on “Alice in Wonderland.” The production is a part of Toronto’s annual WinterCity Festival, which ran from Jan. 25 to Feb. 7.

It’s the actors who set this version of “Alice” apart. They perform atop one-metre-high stilts. Since the actors tower above the crowd, those at the back of the audience do not have a compromised view of the scene.

Morgan Slotnick, 12, attended Saturday’s show with her parents and was happy that she was in the middle of the action.

“I liked that (the actors) were up high. It was cool to see them up in the air,” she said. “I don’t know how they don’t fall over.”

The audience at Saturday afternoon’s show gathered to see the 15-member troupe perform with live musical accompaniment. Unlike a other plays, however, the audience became a part of the moving set.

According to the Theater Gajes’ website, this means that the viewers are as integral to the performance as the actors, costumes and musicians.

“Performing in the middle of the crowd, the spectators are within touching distance of the actors and so become part of our scenery,” the website says.

Sondra MacKenzie has brought her son and daughter to the festival for the past two years. She and her family enjoyed the interactive aspect of “Alice.”

“It was really great to be so close to the actors,” she said. “It was more exciting than seeing a regular play where you sit in a seat the whole time. With this, there was the chance that the characters were going to lean down and talk to you.”

Being a part of the moving set brought about special challenges. Audience members had to pay careful attention to their surroundings or risk collision with the actors on their stilts.

“There were times when we had to move out of the way, so we didn’t get run over by the Queen (of Hearts),” MacKenzie said. “I had to keep an eye out for my kids so they didn’t get in the way.”

Not all members of the audience were wary of the production’s possible dangers.

“My favourite part was when the (White) Rabbit was running around trying to hide,” Morgan Slotnick said. “He came right up to me and tried to hide behind me so no one could see him. It was so funny.”