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It's a joy to revisit a piece - and something that we don't often do as a company. Sadly the vagaries of the current funding system make it easier to develop and create new work rather than bringing back shows from the back catalogue - not least because it costs us almost as much to revive something as to create a show from scratch because the vast majority of our costs are people rather than the physical production (set, costumes, puppets etc).

However ALICE is now heading out on its second tour and its third incarnation and it's been an utter delight reviving and refreshing it. It's such a privilege to be in a rehearsal room and know already that the piece works, and is good. With that pressure gone and the show still fresh in the performers's minds (the first tour only finished 3 months ago) we can use the rehearsals to openly play and to refine those niggling moments that you know you never quite nailed but made work well enough when there wasn't enough time first (or second) time round. One could argue that this could be solved by longer rehearsals in the first place, but it's the space, distance and perspective that you gain on the work that only comes from time away from it which allows you to see these things clearly (also why I'm such a fan of making work through several separate periods of research & development).

So here we go again down the rabbit hole - hopefully with even more nuance, subtlety and clarity in the story-telling. The only downside it's even harder to get the press along (already a struggle because it's a work for younger audiences and it's a tour - both of which seem anathema to critics) because it's not new. It's a shame as I think the piece has got even stronger, richer, deeper and more moving but that does at least mean the audiences are in for an even bigger treat.

What an energetic start to the day! Pushing a box (by box I mean a flight case with a PA on top) through Fullham with baby Finn strapped to Poppy’s chest was a huge achievement. Not flattening any members of the public even more so! We reached our location; Dance Attic Studios and started the great climb (with set) up the flight of stairs to our final destination; our rehearsal room and home for the week.

What do you get if you cross a fur stole, an old purse and a Venetian mask? ... A Cheshire Cat of course! We opened rehearsals focussing on the creation of this fabulous creature. The cat is created from Alice’s memories of a ballroom dance. This worked marvellously this morning as we had music to play with! The cat takes shape gradually, its progression mimics the progression of the music as she builds from stole to purse to mask to a full bodied cat. The mad enjoyment of the music in this scene soon turns sour, the mood changes when Alice begins to question her own sanity. The music then slows and the cat disperses and we see Alan who also is thinking of his mother whilst in the trenches.

It shows they have an intuition; like that of identical twins. It's incredible how both 
Jack and Mandy capture not only the chemistry of their human characters but the 
relationships between the objects that they give life to.

I also noticed another point where music is used in an ironic way. This features in the Turtle and the Gryphon song - the Lobster Quadrille. The song is bright and chirpy and is sung by two quite comically lovable characters. One is a Turtle made from a WW1 helmet and a gas mask and the Gryphon is made from a gun holster and two feathers. The merry melody is a duet and its not until you visually see the turtle losing his pal in the heat of the battle that you realise the true sadness of the song. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so much empathy for an old tin hat and a pair of feathers, but that's just the magic of this show.

After a precarious moving mission this morning, the day has become an exploration of magical and moving music! Music has become the glue in uniting scenes, worlds and emotions. Its power has also kept little Finn snoozing all morning which may be it’s greatest quality of all! Having the full set to rehearse with today has enhanced the magic and opened my eyes further into the subtleties and attention to detail that makes this show unique. Yet another fab day! Well done team!

By Hattie

Alice Rehearsals

Alice Rehearsals

It all began when the team (including 7 week old Finn!) re-convened in the rehearsal room to get started on creating the magical world of wonderland. Not before a cup of tea of course! "We're all mad mad mad here" is a quote from the fabulous production of Alice. This was the general feeling in rehearsal today as the actors played with the madness of scarf cats, turtle hats and book caterpillars.

Creative is an understatement when describing the rehearsal process. Every character has been brought to life through manipulating day to day objects. The characterisation of these objects are fantastic and were really beginning to feel full of life by the end of today's rehearsals. However this unique style does come with a price as we found today when actor Jack needed to 'lubricate his holes', in order for his fingers to fit inside a rugby ball to become a rabbit. However this was nothing compared to the chaffing that poor young Alice has encountered whilst jumping from a  grandfather clock to a stack of books, multiple times! Her paint work has become a little patchy in some of her more delicate areas.

'Dreaming the Caterpillar into existence', has been a focal point today. Baby Finn has contributed enormously with his live snoring sound effects, adding that extra touch of dreamyness to the scene. Created from  a Jacob's ladder of books; the Caterpillar has to be my favourite character. The way that Jack makes him grow and move is mesmerising and mystical; adding to the bizarre world that's gradually being revealed. His pipe and spectacles give him a noble but slightly insane appearance and as he speaks you begin to wonder what he's really smoking in that pipe.

The connection between the lands of dreams and reality have been cleverly thought out. At one point Alan dreams of Alice who dreams of Young Alice who falls asleep and dreams of the Caterpillar. This, as you can see has the potential to become very confusing. However using the puppets makes everything very clear as they signify the switch between reality and wonderland. For example in the run though today I noted a lamp in reality is just a lamp, but when in wonderland it suddenly becomes a woman and gets transformed into a fiery, hormonal and bad tempered Queen of Hearts. Another example is a ball of wool that Alice uses to knit with in the real world, that becomes a little dormouse, with an eerily scratchy voice.

Overall it's been a fab start to the wondrous weeks to come. 'Playing' has been the theme of today which has allowed the actors to have fun exploring and discovering successful accidents in the rehearsal room. Other than the odd pang of cramp from puppet holding and the re-appearance of a torn ligament from violently pulling the ears off a bunny rabbit it has been a great first day! I feel privileged to have been let into the magical world of the rehearsal room. I also feel privileged that baby Finn did me the honour of remaining vomit-less all day. Well done team! Roll on tomorrow.

Hattie Eyre

My time with Metta...

Photo: Time to pack up and head to the V&A

I am already a professional stage manager but I felt I needed to gain more experience in my field within particular parts of the industry. So I got in touch with Metta Theatre company to shadow their Stage Manager. I hadn't worked on a puppet or a circus show before and Metta Theatre are known for both - and the timing of my email was serendipitous as they were in the middle of mounting a UK tour of their puppet adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

I spent one week helping out on ALICE and the first day of rehearsal was mesmerising, I felt like a child again. They didn't just have puppets ready made but they formed puppets during the play which was magical along with the music.

I helped with most stage management duties and felt like part of the team, they were warm and welcoming. I enjoyed watching the process throughout the week and watching the work ethics of another SM.

Every director has their own way of working and Poppy is open to suggestion and has a comfortable working environment. She knew exactly what she wanted and everyone was on the same page and delivered.

I thank Metta Theatre for allowing me into their bubble and am hugely grateful to be offered a paid role - when I join them as Stage Manager for the R&D of their exciting circus theatre JUNGLE BOOK in June - looking forward to gaining yet again more experience (and maybe learning a bit of circus too!)

Sylvia Darkwa-Ohemeng