Walking in a Winter Wonderland

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Alice and rabbit at tea party in Alice in Wonderland
We spoke to Mark Calvert, the director of Northern Stage’s Alice in Wonderland, to discover why this year’s Christmas show is more fantastical than ever before
‘Northern Stage will be injecting a little sparkle and magic into proceedings this Christmas’

Whether you’re a fan of the 2010 Tim Burton film, the 1951 Disney version or the original 1865 novel, Alice in Wonderland holds a special place in our hearts. The story of the plucky girl who finds herself in some fantastical situations has enthralled generations of kids (and big kids at heart). And Northern Stage’s Christmas production of Alice in Wonderland promises to present a whole new take on the classic fairy tale.

‘It’s a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass,’ explains Mark Calvert, who has the task of bringing a world of wonder to life at Northern Stage this Christmas. The play, written by Theresa Heskins, first premiered in another Newcastle – Newcastle under Lyme – and shows Alice in a completely different light to the one you’ll know and love.

‘This Alice isn’t the daughter of your Oxbridge-educated parents falling asleep underneath a tree,’ says Mark. ‘She lives on a boat with her mam who is a bit like Fagin from Oliver, Alice can’t read or write and is definitely working class. It’s her journey to find knowledge and to understand who she is.’

‘There’s always that moment when the audience are expecting a blue-dressed, white-pinafored Alice, and it’s not going to be that,’ says Mark. ‘I want her to be an actual heroine. I want an audience to feel – boy or girl – that she can be their hero.’

But although our hero may not be what we expect, the classic cast of characters she meets along the way are all there. 

The production, which takes on a Victorian theme, will be packed with plenty of songs and colourful costumes that promise to stretch the company of 14, almost all of whom are from the North East. 

‘This year, even compared to last year, is going to be a bigger show,’ explains Mark. The production will be presented in the round, with the potential to seat 600 in the theatre. Some of the audience will sit at red velvet-topped cabaret tables, watching the production – which contains 23 different songs and a cornucopia of special effects – unfold right in front of them.

‘We never make it easy for ourselves,’ admits Mark. ‘It’s important that a family audience come out and feel their money has been well-spent and they’ve had a good time.’

Mark has a few ideas for how he’ll make sure people do have a good time. The audience won’t simply be watching the show: they’ll be taking part. ‘There’s going to be a Bugsy Malone-style food fight at the end,’ he says, and the audience will be invited to bring their own decorated hats so they too can be Mad Hatters. The production team are also scratching their heads trying to figure out how they can incorporate bubbles, which proved such a massive hit with audiences at James and the Giant Peach, last year’s Christmas production.

‘We’re trying to find ways we can offer those moments of collective joy,’ says Mark. ‘Things will come out of rehearsals we haven’t thought of yet, and we’ll bring those ideas to the theatre.’

At one point, when Alice drinks the special potion that makes her balloon up in size, a four-metre-high puppet will shoot up from underneath the stage, all while the White Rabbit sings a song, oblivious to the way the heroine has become a giant. 

In essence, and as always, Northern Stage will be injecting a little sparkle and magic into proceedings this Christmas.

‘It should be Wonderland, it shouldn’t be Alrightland,’ Mark adds. ‘To make it wonderful is quite tough, but we’re trying to find a way that we can bring an audience into that auditorium and allow them to walk into a world they haven’t seen before.’

Alice in Wonderland will be at Northern Stage from 25 November–6 January 2018, and is suitable for all ages, but recommended for five to 11 year olds. To book tickets, visit www.northernstage.co.uk, or call 0191 230 5151.

Published in: December 2017

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