Middle School Play – Wanderland
2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To mark this literary milestone, the Middle School Drama Company has put together its own adaptation of the story, which was performed this week to sell out audiences. Staged in promenade across the three floors of the new South Building, the production saw the audience split into three separate groups to follow Alice or one of her sisters as they explored scenes at different times, coming together in The Loft for a mad Tea Party and climaxing with the sisters’ trial by the Queen of Hearts.
The inspiration for the production came not only from the significant literary anniversary, but also from a current trend in professional theatre-making: to re-purpose unusual spaces for promenade, immersive performances in which the audience experiences the action of a drama face-to-face with the performers. Disused postal sorting offices, abandoned underground stations, and forgotten tower blocks have been transformed by theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, Rift, and The Art of Disappearing to truly immerse an audience in the world of the play.
The company has been preparing for the production in weekly meetings throughout the Michaelmas term, using text, images and film as inspiration to adapt Carroll’s story, and experimenting with unusual spaces on the school site. This process included a visit in December from a leading practitioner of the physical theatre company Complicité, who gave the cast some valuable lessons in choral movement. Towards the end of the development phase, Mr Cerny, the company director, drew together the company’s ideas and spent the Christmas break composing the script, which has been revised and adapted throughout the rehearsal period in January.
The production has required a great deal from the cast: substantial time commitments; the versatility to have their lines altered and movements changed as the show has developed; ransacking their family homes for costume, props and set; and – not least – the stamina to haul all of our costumes, props and set across three floors, to set it up and take it down before and after each performance. They all should be very proud of their collective accomplishment. Notable performances came from the three lost sisters (Isabella Brunt, Kate Arnold and Laura Dementiev), the Mad Hatter and March Hare (Peter Silver and Charity Pickup), the laconic Caterpillar (Ramiz Cuthbert), and the comic turn as karaoke-singing Tweedledum and Tweedledee provided by Harry Gilby and Harvey Redfern.
In April the company will follow up our performances with a trip to the disused vaults below Waterloo station to see how the professionals do it in Alice’s Adventures Underground by the British theatre company Les Enfants Terribles.