There have been so many re-tellings of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, what drew you to this particular adaptation?
Simon Reade's adaptation is true to the original; full of nonsense, startling characters and situations that can be rather frightening.
You have previously described this production as having a modern edge, in what ways?
We were keen to dust off the story's Victorian setting and brush away any sweet sentiment that has grown up around the tale. We meet two sisters at the start whose dilemmas and behaviour we can all recognise and understand, not from the olden days but from our modern world. Frustrated at being treated like a child, Alice falls down the rabbit hole and through her adventures learns all about growing up, eventually finding the courage to stand up for herself. Her acceptance of the strange and marvellous world of the White Rabbit reminds us how important it is in our busy 21st century life to allow ourselves to dream, play, imagine and build castles in the air.
How would you describe the character of Alice?
I have a particular fondness for Alice. There is something so brave and forthright about her. Alice is a true heroine, she can't stand injustice for instance, but she's also simply a clever, inquisitive little girl that you could meet today in your street or school.
Are there any moments of the production you are particularly looking forward to seeing with a live audience?
There are some rather frightening moments in the production and I am keen to see the audience's reaction. Every good tale has dramatic edge as well as fun and we hope that everyone will be rooting for Alice when she is tried in the mad illogical court of the Queen of Hearts. Having watched a few performances so far the audience goes quieter than quiet which is just what we want! They seem to be holding their breath as the Queen condemns her unjustly and Alice stands up for herself. Yesterday a very lovely audience booed the Queen the moment they saw her. Perfect!
A large section of your career has been dedicated to youth/children's theatre, what has drawn you to children's theatre?
There is nothing quite like seeing a child spellbound by the magic of powerful storytelling; shared with friends and family. Children spot every detail in a production and their honest feedback keeps you on your toes! The relationship between the actors on stage and a children's audience is fresh, alive and dynamic. It's simply the most rewarding experiment and it keeps me young at heart!
In what ways do you think children's theatre is important?
Children's theatre opens doors to the imagination for young audiences. It allows them to look at the big rites of passage in life and to increase their understanding of universal themes such as change, bereavement, going from one school to the next, encountering other cultures, exploring identity, or experiencing the challenges and joys of friendship and love. It introduces them to a collaborative way of working – in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland they see an ensemble of six actors play a myriad of parts, each supporting the other in retelling this great classic, working, singing and playing together on stage to create a harmonious whole. Young people's theatre has been a pioneer of culturally diverse casting so a wide range of role models are offered for young audiences. And in this hectic era of busy-ness and the ever increasing use of the social media and the internet it offers a shared live experience for families, teachers and children. I have watched countless shows in school halls and theatres all over the land and there is nothing like watching a recalcitrant teenager lean forward completely engaged in a piece of contemporary writing. Or a spellbound child, enchanted by the magic of theatre. Polka plays a major role in delivering all of the above, and more.
What are your top three productions that you have seen?
It is very hard to choose and I would make a different choice every day! But today I will opt for Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream which I saw when I was fifteen and which introduced me to the power of the ensemble. As I watched actors juggling, spinning plates, flying on trapezes and at the same time making Shakespeare's text dynamic, fresh and relevant I knew that this was the sort of theatre that I wanted to make: accessible, risky, pushing the boundaries, forged from months of exploration and development. I went on a school trip and it changed my life. Remembering that experience reminds me of the importance of ensuring that children get to see live theatre. Once seen never forgotten! In 2013 I have loved an enthralling Cinderella by Travelling Light and Tobacco Factory, now on at the Unicorn, and Theatre Centre's Advice For The Young At Heart by Roy Wiilliams, produced by Theatre Centre, sixty years old this year and still presenting unflinching contemporary new writing for young audiences.
Who or what has inspired you throughout your career?
A passion for the experiment. Aiming always to be truthful and present sensitive issues and complex situations on stage. A love of dance and music and beautiful visual imagery. Always trying to bring new voices and visions to young audiences. Believing that children can take rich language, metaphor, poetry, and stories that provoke empathy and understanding of the world around them. All the actors who have worked their hearts out creating multi layered shows for young audiences, and especially those who have carried the sets into schools, driven the van, travelled to all the four corners of the UK to take provocative or enchanting plays to those who don't have access to theatre. The artists and technicians who create the worlds of the plays, with the minimum of means and the vastest of imaginations. And the teachers and parents who take the time to bring their children to the theatre. Last but not least, I am touched and encouraged by the young audiences. Their ability to enter any imaginative world, whether it be Lewis Carroll or Malorie Blackman or William Shakespeare, is a real inspiration. As a child said to me this week on seeing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: ‘This is Wonderland! Anything can happen!'
What do you see yourself doing in five years' time?
Starting a new show, somewhere, anywhere, with a group of talented actors and a creative team full of ideas. Turning over that first page of the script and saying ‘Right, what are the most powerful moments in this play? What drives your character? What are the stakes in this scene? How shall we create the scene when the heroine is fighting for her life? What music might create the atmosphere?' There is nothing like making a new show and I always feel privileged when bringing a brand new story or a well-loved classic to life. Can't wait for the next one!
What have you got planned next?
This has been a fantastic show to work on and I'm sure I will have some kind of holiday! However, I am very excited about a project working with the East 15 Drama School… we haven't decided on the play yet but it promises to be an exciting start to 2014.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland runs at the Polka Theatre until 15 February 2014
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