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Talented Norwich youth stars help put the wonder into new production of Alice

PUBLISHED: 09:45 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:51 25 July 2017

Norwich Theatre Royal’s youth programme’s summer musical this year is Alice in Wonderland. Picture: Submitted

Norwich Theatre Royal’s youth programme’s summer musical this year is Alice in Wonderland. Picture: Submitted

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Norwich Theatre Royal’s youth programme’s summer musical has a track record of unearthing future stars. Course leader and show writer David Lambert tells us more about this year’s show Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Back In Wonderland  is being performed by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Matilda Bailes and Ali Hunt, who play Alice and the Mad Hatter, Photo: Norwich Theatre Royal. Alice Back In Wonderland is being performed by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Matilda Bailes and Ali Hunt, who play Alice and the Mad Hatter, Photo: Norwich Theatre Royal.

Each summer, hundreds of young people get the chance to perform on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage putting the skills and stagecraft they have learned into practice by starring in a major musical production.

David Lambert, who writes and directs the show, has been director of the theatre’s arts courses for almost 30 years, though he is soon to step down having enthused generations of fledgling actors and seen many go on to both theatre and big and small screen success.

The theatre arts and youth programmes have nurtured the fledgling talents of a remarkable number of future stars in recent years from Hollywood star Sam Claflin and his actor brother Joe to Daisy Maywood who played Eponine in the 25th anniversary show of Les Misérables.

Who knows then which future stars of stage and screen will be treading the boards in this year’s summer musical production, an adaptation of Alice Back In Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through The Looking Glass are amongst the best-loved of children’s stories – and David’s story, which enjoys a four night run next week, shows how the heroine’s life panned out as it revisits the scene of her adventures.

As writing the book, music and lyrics for the show, David is also directing the 280 young people who will appear in it, including Matilda Bailes and Ali Hunt who are playing Alice and the Mad Hatter.

Why did you decided to revisit the Alice story?

Norwich Theatre Royal Arts Course director, David Lambert. Picture: Denise Bradley Norwich Theatre Royal Arts Course director, David Lambert. Picture: Denise Bradley

I chose the Alice story because it’s such a classic. Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are so well-loved and I thought that would encourage an audience. It is very much a zeitgeist at the moment – there seem to be so many productions connected with Alice and sequels to Alice and different versions of it. It was the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Alice in 2015. It’s a great story and I thought of a sequel of what happens when Alice is a little bit older. I have twisted some of the storylines – and it’s fun and full of mad characters and the cast love playing mad characters.”

How long did it take you to write the storyline?

Well for the actual storyline I got a small group of students together and we had a day of brainstorming to come up with the base plot line which I then took away and spent eight weeks writing into a script, with the lyrics and the music – so it was eight weeks from beginning to end.

So the children on the course have an input into it as well?

Yes, they helped me with the plot line. Once I have a plot line then dialogue and character is much easier, but it’s having a structure that suits our theatre arts course and the youth company, and gives all the young people a chance to be on stage. If we went with a pre-existing musical, then how do you fit eight-year-olds into something like Cabaret or another big musical? It doesn’t really work. But this way, I write something that’s very specific for our young people so that they get the experience of being in a specially-written show, especially for them and it’s on stage at the Theatre Royal which is a huge experience for them.

Where does your storyline take Alice?

It starts off in Oxford where Alice’s father Dr Liddell was Dean of Christchurch and it starts with Alice’s mother’s funeral, so it’s not a very happy start, and she is convinced that all this Wonderland stuff is nonsense. It was just a book that Uncle Lewis Carroll wrote down and it was all made up. So she is therefore quite surprised that suddenly the White Rabbit reappears and everything has gone hideously wrong in Wonderland. The Looking Glass-land people, who are led by the Red Queen and the chess pieces, have all invaded and taken over the land, so Alice is needed back in Wonderland to help sort things out.

Are there some big song and dance numbers to look forward to as well?

Yes – there is some lovely harmony singing from the main cast. There’s some dance numbers. A lot of the songs aren’t standalone. They push the story forward which is the whole point of good musical theatre, I hope, but yes there are some nice dance numbers. Two of the members of the cast have helped me with the choreography this year and have choreographed a couple of songs themselves, which is brilliant, so it is all singing, all dancing and all acting.

Do some of them get involved in behind the scenes work as well?

To an extent. We have one young lady who is not only playing a principal role but she is also designing all the character make-up for the principal roles. Two girls are choreographing some of the numbers for me, so we get people involved wherever we can. And it’s not all about the principals. Principals might only have a couple of songs, but some of the ensemble have got up to 10 songs and dances to learn. There will be around 280 taking part overall and in each performance there will be getting on for 200 on the stage each night, so things can get a little tight. There’ll be lots of fun and laughter, and family entertainment is guaranteed.

Alice Back In Wonderland  is being performed by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Matilda Bailes and Ali Hunt, who plays Alice. Photo: Norwich Theatre Royal Alice Back In Wonderland is being performed by Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company. Matilda Bailes and Ali Hunt, who plays Alice. Photo: Norwich Theatre Royal

• Alice Back in Wonderland, Norwich Theatre Royal, July 26-29, 7pm, 2pm July 29, £12-£7, under-3s free, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk



Former Theatre Royal Youth Stars

• Sam Claflin – films include My Cousin Rachel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

• Joe Claflin – acting credits include Game of Thrones and Da Vinci’s Demons.

• Jack Bannon – films include The Imitation Game and Fury alongside Brad Pitt, plus ITV’s Endeavour.

• Tim Bell – Shanty Theatre Company co-founder.

• Daniel Burgess – directing career includes work for The Globe.

• Martin Hutson – National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company productions.

• Nic Jackman – starred in Arnold Wesker play Roots at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

• Sarah Langrish Smith – previous productions include 180 at Norwich Playhouse, and Little Pieces of Gold for the Park Theatre.

• Daisy Maywood – played Eponine in the 25th anniversary year of Les Miserables, and Meg in the 25th anniversary concert of Phantom of the Opera.

• Neil Sheppeck – founder of theatre company Love&Madness.

Man who inspired Hollywood star Sam Claflin is leaving Norwich Theatre Royal after 28 years

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