Introducing the Writers: ALICE Preview

Introducing the Writers: ALICE Preview

An insight into the writing and composing process from Barry Brown and Ian Favell who have adapted Lewis Carroll's beloved 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' for the ADC this Christmas.

For my generation in the mid and now distant Sixties, Carroll was a writer who seemed to combine many of the attributes of the Age. He stood at the beginning of a tradition of absurdist or, as he would put it, Nonsense humour that was anarchic and liberating. Although he himself was conservative by nature, his wild imagination was tuned to take down the stuffiness, hypocrisy and tedium of Victorian society in the form of encounters with the grotesque eccentrics of Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land.

This was very much what we thought about Britain in the Sixties, together with a skewed view of the Empire, which came together in radio comedy such as The Goon Show, Revues such as Beyond the Fringe, shows such as “Oh, What a Lovely War” and the work of N.F.Simpson. Even the Beatles created a satiric Victorian past in “Sergeant Pepper” and included Carroll on its sleeve and Jonathan Miller created a modern version for television.

Since this adaptation was last staged almost 20 years ago, I have rewritten about a third of the show, taking the opportunity to invent elements in the spirit of Carroll’s dialogue and, in particular, developing the character of Carroll himself and his relationship with Alice. Alice is also older and a less compliant observer of the creatures she encounters. She is determined not to conform to the rules on which she is continually lectured by people who are not as intelligent as she is, and her determination to become a Queen is linked to a desire to grow up and be her own person. Of course, it is never clear what kind of Queen she will make. Does she simply join the Establishment or usher in a more enlightened reign?

I have always loved the verse in Alice and elsewhere, which is often both clever and funny. Running through this Production are his pure Nonsense rhymes and his parodies. The latter include “Jabberwocky”, which sends up a fake medievalism and invents most of its words and “Old Father William”, which trashes the pompous moralising of Robert Southey’s deservedly forgotten “The Old Man’s Comforts and How he Gained Them”.

Then there is “Haddocks’ Eyes”. This is the perfect take down of Wordsworth’s habit of investigating the nature of the peasants around him, carried out for the best of reasons and bringing the everyday lives of the poor into the poetic limelight, but Carroll imagines the White Knight doing this in an intrusive way that is both patronising and hilariously violent.

In this instance and others, the poems are like the lyrics to songs, and in our Production we have put them to music. One of my greatest pleasures has been to see how well this has worked under the inventive genius of Ian Favell.

Barry Brown, Writer

For me, the starting point of the music was really to try to get inside the minds of the author and director to establish the broad nature of the production, and the range of moods that would be needed. Once I had some idea of pace, period, and intended styles I was able to start doodling some ideas and offer them for feedback from the director, before settling on the key aspect of the item to begin to work it up into a full piece.

For this production the intention was wherever possible to use the original words from Lewis Carroll’s books, edited to fit the speed, rhythm and feel of the required song. In some cases this led nicely to the development of the melody lines, while in others the music was written first to match the required mood and the words then selected from the books to fit the melody.

Composing for a stage production is always a challenge, as the production changes during the rehearsal process, requiring adaptations or additions to the music to fit the changed circumstances. This is particularly true for the “underscore” tracks – the music that plays in the background behind the actor’s speeches to enhance the mood or intentions of the action, or to gradually change the mood or pace of the story being told.

There are three items that in rehearsal are already showing signs of exceeding my hopes – a lyrical solo song, a poem set to music with a sung chorus, and the Finale that pulls together a number of melody threads from earlier in the show. I am also very pleased with the way in which the cast has adopted the music without question and is using well it to enhance the actions and words being spoken.

I would like audiences to respond enthusiastically to my music, with laughter and applause, and perhaps in the Finale by clapping along or joining in with the chorus. I hope that this will occur naturally with the music created for this super production.

Ian Favell, Composer

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Tuesday 06 - Saturday 10 December 2022, 19:45

Saturday 10 December 2022, 14:30