Designing ALICE

Designing ALICE

Barry Brown tells us about the design for our upcoming production of ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.

I have been designing revues and plays for a ridiculous amount of time and the appearance of what I do is often as important to me as the content, though as a former Architect, I like to think that, however waywardly, the form still follows the function. It is simply that the function of what I choose to Direct is often very silly indeed.

With Alice, my aim from the first was to create a very simple background for a fastmoving series of sketches. An Alice Revue. The design of Revue is, in my experience, driven by the need to create an environment that does not compete with the wildly varied action and avoids any lengthy scene changes, which kill the energy of the show. Having said that, a revue can also have a visual theme that runs through it.

Anyone who reads the original Alice Through the Looking-Glass, like anyone who first encounters the original Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh, will find it impossible to see the characters in any other way than that pictured by their first illustrators. In the case of Alice, this means the genius of Sir John Tenniel. Tenniel, the master of crosshatching, was a political cartoonist, who brought the whole Victorian establishment into the stories and was able to rise to the challenge of meeting the exacting and eccentric requirements of the author.I have tried to match those requirements (with equally eccentric demands) for my highly skilled collaborators. Happily, unlike Tenniel, they are yet to walk away from the Project. The idea has been to create a simple stage within a stage in a world of black and white, mirroring the black and white squares of the chess board. An abstract Pollock’s Theatre.

It is not a realistic world, and the few flats and many of the props (by Beth White) are two dimensional and “drawn” on thin board like illustrations. This has been achieved with great skill by Beth, who has managed to saw intricate shapes like a lobster and a complete cut-out loaf made up of removable slices. The flats are hand drawn using large ink pens (a device I have used before). If the lines are shaky, it must be imagined that this is because they are a tribute to Tenniel rather than the fact that they are drawn in the icy conditions of an unheated barn just off the A14 by someone who just wants to go home and warm up.

Photo by Paul Ashley Photography

Colour is provided by the marvellous costumes designed by Tracy James, with makeup and hair by Hannah Curtis and extraordinary hats by both of them. Thus the characters stand out against the simple monochromatic background and provide all the main interest, which is as it should be. The lighting by Dominic Plunkett and the sound by Chris Hay are similarly colourful and unrealistic, as is the short filmed tribute to Monty Python
by Barney Brown. None of this is naturalistic, all of it is intended to match the mood of joyous anarchy that lies behind the Production and Carroll’s work. At the time of writing there is still much to do, and despite the requirements of wielding a large Pitt pen, fingers are crossed that all will approximate to the model. Apart from how it falls apart in the back of the car. But that, like Alice is all down to the magic of Theatre. And possibly greater skill.

Tickets to Alice Through the Looking Glass are available now from