Focus talks with Alex Robson of Felt Tip Theatre Company about his new production, Alice in Wonderland. Alex tells us what we can expect …
Alex, could you share with us your experience in the theatre industry…
After studying theatre at UNE, I went on to co-found the Felt Tip Theatre Company. Since then we have run weekly youth drama workshops, and staged numerous small and large-scale productions in theatres in Armidale, the great outdoors, Sydney, Port Macquarie, and across the region. Last year we took a play I wrote called A Short Guide to Shakespeare to the Sydney Fringe Festival, where it was listed as one of the “must see” shows of the Fringe, and subsequently toured across the state. When you’ve had sell-out shows in Limbri and Narrabri, you know you’ve made it!
What has inspired Felt Tip to produce an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland?
I have been desperate to stage a full production of Alice for many years. For the HSC, I devised a monologue about the so-called Mad Hatter – the book never calls him this! – and for Favourite Shorts I revisited the character again, from a more cynical and philosophical angle. Both were received very well. And now I am playing the Hatter yet again, in another performance of my design.
I was also for a time so poor, I lived mostly off tuna – which probably gave me chronic mercury poisoning, which is what drove the Victorian hatters mad when Lewis Carroll first wrote his story about Alice. Suffice to say, I am mad for Alice in Wonderland.
What can your audience expect?
They can expect Carroll’s story, largely intact, with only slight abridgement and adornment. This is not just a show for kids, and whilst it will most certainly appeal to them, this is theatre for all ages. Carroll’s work (and perhaps mine by extension) is remarkably witty and intelligent, with some of the puns and references easily going over children’s heads: then and now. Audiences can expect a bit of wonder, and to be delighted by it.
Tell us about the cast and people involved?
Felt Tip has a reputation for youth theatre and younger casts, but with this production there is a real mix. We have actors aged between 5 and 50 (and a few beyond, but I won’t name names), and it is extraordinary watching them work together – such a mix of experiences! Age and maturity are such important themes in the book that it was very important to me to see them reflected, to an extent, in the casting. You will see a few familiar faces, but some completely new ones, which is tremendously exciting.
Charlotte Charteris playing Alice is a complete delight, and has maturity and focus beyond her years – which is useful, as she virtually doesn’t leave the stage! The casting of the equally tall, thin and talented Kyle Donnan and Kyle O’Donohue as the Tweedles was a no brainer, and Torsten Strokirch’s White Rabbit will having you unconsciously twitching your nose for weeks to come.
A special mention must go out to Matthew Whittingham, who, in addition to playing the Executioner – you will never find the mock executing of small children so endearing – has designed virtually all of Felt Tip’s posters, and this is potentially his best work yet!
How much work and preparation goes into a production of this calibre?
In a word: lots. Aside from the agonising process of adapting and writing the play, the hours upon hours of rehearsals, there is the physical making of the stuff. A real highlight of this production, as with most of Felt Tip’s shows, will be the costumes designed by Margaret Sims. She has really outdone herself. Whilst some are on loan, a lot have been made from scratch. The Queen of Heart’s costume alone is likely to steal the show.
It is that lamentable aspect of theatre that you work on a thing for months and months, and then it is over in twinkling, a mere five performances! We are working on providing a school’s only matinee on Friday 30th October, so if your school is interested, please get in touch!
What are the plans for the future?
Before Alice, we are taking a show to this year’s Sydney Fringe: Telling Stories by Jobi Strike, which audiences were treated to a sneak preview of in last year’s Favourite Shorts. Then immediately after Alice is CAPERS. Then an end of year concert for my drama students. Then a Sydney project or two, which are on the boil. And then … who knows?