Alice in Winterland, this year’s Christmas cracker at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, starts its month-long run this week. Some of the stars of the show answer our questions…
What made you keen to join the cast of Alice in Winterland?
Amanda Gordon (Mother/Cheshire Cat): It’s an interesting and exciting reimagining of the Alice books for the 21st century. I wanted to work with the terrific creative team and I love working with youth companies.
Susannah van den Berg (Aunt Margaret/Queen of Hearts): I’ve seen a few Christmas productions at The Rose, as well as being involved in several community scratch choirs. I have always been impressed with the production values and the commitment and energy of the youth theatre. I was also excited about tackling a brand new script and original score, being involved in creating something new and fresh.
Jonathan Andrew Hume (Blue Caterpillar/Knave): I have always liked both Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass and the many different ways it has been portrayed on film and stage; but the thing that interested me most about Alice In Winterland was the story. Ciaran has written a great take on Alice’s adventure. A journey of self-discovery which children and adults will relate to, learn from, appreciate and love.
Gaia Mondadori (age 16, playing Alice): I have been part of the Rose Youth Theatre since I was 12 and fell in love with the Rose and the team. Having been a Rose Christmas production before I was eager to be part of the magic again. The cast spends so much time together that we do become one big family with lots of laughter, tears, and of course fun!
What is Alice in Winterland about?
AG: A girl finding herself through adversity. How to discover the warrior within!
SB: The setting of the original books has been changed to during the First World War. Using elements and characters from the two books it’s essentially a coming of age story for Alice. Through her adventures in Wonderland she gains the strength and courage to deal with the trauma and responsibilities of reality.
JAH: After Alice’s father returns home after the war, wounded and unable to care for her, Alice reluctantly prepares to move away with her Aunt Margaret and be sent to Finishing School. Just before she leaves, a talking White Rabbit appears with the hope of bringing her to Wonderland to save it from the terrifying rule of the Queen Of Hearts and the ‘Great Freeze’. With the help of a whole host of curious and imaginative characters and creatures, we follow Alice on her exciting, thrilling, and sometimes mad adventure to try and save Wonderland, but also discover what strength and power lies inside herself.
GM: The show is based on Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic, but in our version when Alice’s father comes back injured and traumatised from the war he can no longer care for her and all she wants is for time to stop. Sure enough she stops time and is visited by a White Rabbit who instigates her quest to save Wonderland from the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and an everlasting winter, and where Alice must discover herself in order to make the impossible become possible.
Tell us a bit about your characters and what are you enjoying most?
AG: I play Alice’s mother and the Cheshire Cat. An unusual doubling, but both are there to help Alice along her own path. Cheshire Cat is a lot of fun, because she has her own rules and agenda. Don’t all cats?!
SB: The Queen of Hearts is a delicious megalomaniac, rather like a modern day dictator. I’m finding her such fun to play because she has no limits. I have the ability to be as silly or outrageous as I like because my court allows me to get away with anything. Like anyone in great power, the chance of being overthrown is always present so I’ve chosen to rule by fear.
JAH: I play the Knave Of Hearts, who is the Queen’s captain of the Playing Cards army who carries out her every demand. A bully who sees himself as more important than everybody else and is not afraid to show it. I also play the Blue Caterpillar. An extravagant hookah smoking creature who is wise and knowledgeable of the history and prophecy of Wonderland. He has given refuge to Wonderlanders outcast by Queen’s cruelty and is part of the revolution trying to end the Queen’s hold over Wonderland.
GM: In this adaptation, Alice is a 15 year old attempting to tackle grief and learning how to move on, whilst opposing the constraints of being a Victorian girl, and learning to find herself and allow herself to become a warrior. I am enjoying the playing a traditional character in a different way and the understanding the challenges that Alice faces on her journey.
What particular challenges does this role present to you as an actor?
AG: Finding the nuances and aspects of life as mother, mirrored in the Cheshire Cat within the insane world of Wonderland. Floating! Oh and losing my head!
SB: Vocally it’s a big role – lots of shouting “Off With Their Heads” – so sustaining that will be a big task. Delivering a pretty spectacular battle scene whilst wearing a massive dress is also going to be challenging!
JAH: It is always challenging playing more than one role in a play, especially when the personalities and characterisations are completely different, but I love a challenge! I’m particularly looking forward to sword fighting as the Knave Of Hearts, and playing a bad guy. I’ve always wanted to play a villain!
GM: Playing this role has helped me to develop as an actor and learn to be able to let go and trust the process and explore Alice and her strengths as well as her weaknesses. One of the challenges faced is being able to allow myself to not be afraid to get things wrong and to experiment, so each time I come to rehearsal I try to bring something new.
Alice in Winterland, is based on Lewis Carroll’s timeless books, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Why do you think these characters have such an enduring appeal?
AG: The characters are bonkers and the chance for reinterpretation is endless.
SB: They’re magnifications of human nature – all elements we recognise in ourselves taken to huge proportions. They’re all things we could become.
JAH: These books are timeless. They both create worlds of imagination and fun that are the stuff of dreams. I’ve read the books both as a child and an adult and have enjoyed and appreciated them in different ways each time.
The production sees a professional cast and a youth company perform together. What has it been like working alongside Rose Youth Company?
AG: The Rose Youth Company are a delight to work with. They are a group of talented, funny and bright young actors and I am loving every minute of it. They are growing in confidence all the time and it’s fantastic to see. I don’t get to act with all of them, unfortunately, but my Alices are brilliant, as are my cat movement chorus, who all play other parts.
SB: Really fantastic. They have such great energy and focus that could shame some other professional companies! Working with two separate casts is a joy as a performer as you get different performances to play off, meaning no show will be the same. The company really works as a true ensemble, they are generous to each other and there are no small parts. Slotting into a company like this is incredibly exciting.
JAH: The Rose Youth Theatre are truly amazing. Some of the character choices they make in the rehearsal room astound me as you would normally expect to see them from seasoned West End performers. Even though they are juggling school and homework with rehearsals and performances, you’d never know. They take on the work like professionals themselves, and are a joy to watch and work alongside.
And what has it been like working alongside professional actors?
GM: Amazing! I feel like not only are the professional actors so supportive, but I also I have learnt so much from watching them! The youth theatre company has a great relationship with the professional actors as they treat us like professionals too.
Why do you think people should come and see Alice in Winterland?
AG: Alice In Winterland is an exciting and epic show. The story is brilliant. It is a touching and engaging action adventure, featuring a host of magnumptious creatures and beamish music, not to be missed!
SB: The story is incredible and the families who come to see it will go on a real journey with Alice. There’s puppets, magic, monsters, a new script with an electrifying original score, some terrible jokes, beautiful costumes and scenery and snow, there’s definitely snow. Entertaining yet life affirming.
JAH: Alice In Winterland is a spectacular Christmas production which will astound audience members both young and old with a timeless and captivating story, beautiful scenery and projections, extraordinary puppetry and costumes, memorable songs and a blockbuster movie worthy underscore, all put together by an amazingly talented creative team and performed by a brilliant cast. Personally, I think it should go on all year!
GM: Because the production presents a heroine (at last!) who is coming to terms with grief and acceptance and these universal themes apply to everyone, no matter what age. It is a fun, uplifting Christmas show that allows you to step into a magical world.
Alice In Winterland, Rose Theatre, 24 – 26 High Street, Kingston Upon Thames, KT1 1HL, Thursday, December 7 to Sunday, January 7. Tickets cost from £15 and are available online at rosetheatrekingston.org, by phone on 020 8174 0090, or from the box office.