Chipping Campden School’s production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ in the school hall last Thursday and Friday left us gasping at the skill with which the producer, Miss Joan Lewis, reinvigorated Lewis Carrol’s classics – adapted for the stage by Clemence Dane – and directed her enormous cast of 80 effervescent juveniles.
Putting on Alice is like walking a tightrope. If it is done amateurishly the play seems merely silly. Done too slickly – as a professional company might do it – it would lose much of its innocence and charm.
Miss Lewis seemed to get the best of both worlds. Her imaginative production was far from amateurish and thus saved the play from silliness and yet the performance had an unsophisticated, unprofessional exuberance, which enhanced the book’s unique charm.
But what a challenging play it is to put on! Almost within minutes of curtain rise the producer had to shrink her leading lady to a height of ten inches and then fill the stage brimful with Alice’s tears. Both these feats were skilfully accomplished in theatrical terms if not in fact. An apron stage almost as big as but slightly lower than the main stage had been thrust into the hall.
An extra stage also gave more room for the crowds to mill around in, and what crowds they were! Nothing like this has been seen on a local stage for years! Suddenly there would be this irruption – that is the only word for it – and in seconds the stage would be awhirl with a mobile multi-coloured mass. It was not untidy, undisciplined movement. The crowd wove patterns, knew what it had to do. It wasn’t until the final curtain call, when forgivable chaos broke out, that one realised what a tight hand the producer had kept on the crowd scenes.
Miss Lewis ignored the Tenniel illustrations and chose the costumes in bright primary colours to suit her own inventive taste. Nor were the animals depicted as such but were unmistakably human beings. In this she may have been influenced by by the recent television ‘Alice’ but her production nailed the lie that the characters in the book symbolise repressive Victorian adulthood. She had updated a number of the characters to the contemporary scene and this treatment was a total success. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, for example, were a pair of Liverpudlian wide boys, and Alice – a marvellously assured performance by Sally Tyson – wore a mini-skirt.
Music plays an important part in the show, and the arrival of the Queen of Hearts went off magnificently to the braying of a brass ensemble. Individual songs were put on with an apt and uncanny sense of self-parody and, what was equally surprising, were sung by extremely good voices. The music, catchy and appropriate, was composed by Mr. R. W. Whittingham, and several of the songs gained depth from being accompanied by mimes devised by Mrs M. Clarke.
The same sense of rightness which characterised the singing also pervaded the acting. Not a single member of the cast put a foot wrong – unless it was in the script. It was extraordinary how these young people whom one would have expected to be extremely self-conscious portraying such peculiar characters – for ‘Alice’ has always seemed more of a book for adults than for children – completely entered into their parts and played them so effectively.
Perhaps the most important comment on the play has been saved till last. This production achieved something that schools rarely attempt: it drew its cast from the entire school except possibly the first year. And this mingling together of second and third year pupils with lofty sixth formers was both highly successful and somewhat heartwarming. Altogether it was a grand theatrical evening – and I’m not just saying this to avoid a lot of angry letters from the school in our correspondence column next week. It really is true!
Cast: Sally Tyson, Douglas Hill, Madeline Bath, Helen Jones, Mary Ellis, Linda Newman, Cynthia Slatter, Geraldine Simpson, Georgina McKay, Ian Elliott, Peter Hancock, Roger Carter, Stephen Brodie, John Keyte, Bernadette Newman, Marian Jones, Keith Simpson, Stephen Grove, Malcom Kitchen, Michael Erlanger, James Bocock, Arthur Hartwell, Michael Fairbank, Penny Jones, Richard Taylor, Trevor Chapman, Robert Higginson, Thomas Campbell, Anthony Grieve, Robert Jones, Susan Yardley, Keith Gardener, Alan Taylor, Rosemary Vidal, Jane Cowan, Mary Sharpe, William Hartley, Graham Bruce, Peter Brown, Richard Young and Nigel Keyte.
Non-speaking: S. Moore, D. Keyte, S. Bell, A.Wallace, A.Simpson, R. Free, C. Dinwoodie, L. Liengaard, M. Haidon, L. Bell, L. James, C. Saas, J. Bright, A. McCann, A. Brown.