Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | Unmasked Theatre | Guest Post

I met a lovely lady at the Unmasked Theatre performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who told me she had written some thoughts on the performance but didn’t have an outlet to share it! So I offered her a guest post of my blog! The below was written by Fay Watters, friend and supporter of Unmasked Theatre! Basically its an insiders guide to the whole production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! And may I add she is a real natural!

Fay Watters said . . .

The first thing to be acknowledged is that the entire cast and directors put on a stella performance throughout this production!!  It was a first for Tilgate Park following their brilliant decision to make use of the area originally built for our shire horses;  and a first open-air performance for UNMASKED THEATRE. Sans microphones  their voices carried across the area, uphill and downhill, through wind and rain.  A super start to such an adventure! Using the concept of promenade theatre, the audience were led through a proscenium arch into Wonderland.  The lead in story being provided by various characters hidden amongst the foliage en route.  The Mad Hatter and White Rabbit then invited everyone to take their seats to watch the Queen’s Trials.  It has to be said that initially not all of the audience appeared to understand that this promenade was part of the performance.  Some attempted to rush past Alice to sit themselves down;  sadly missing out on some important and fun elements of the show. With the assistance of Tweedledee and Tweedledum the White Rabbit quickly had this slight hiccup under control.

Their first performance on Thursday evening was a wonder in itself. First night nerves?  Not that I could see.  I’m sure a few lines were changed en-route but if they were – no one noticed!  What a wonderful opening to the weekend ahead. However, as Friday approached……the weather forecasts began to change.  Did they let a spot of true British weather deter them?  Of course not – they’re professionals.  As the rain began to fall at their second performance, umbrellas appeared for every member of the audience.  However, the rain became more than a tad ‘heavy’.  Just after the first intermission the Directors made the sensible decision to halt the performance and invite everyone back another day – a decision that was well received by the audience.  Contingencies for Friday evening were put in place as the rain, yet again,  began to fall.  With their audience protected against the elements, the cast continued in a spectacular haze of misty rain;  putting on yet another brilliant performance. (Albeit some of the scenery, particularly the garden flowers were now overwatered.) As the clouds gathered following their Saturday afternoon performance (which was yet another superb performance albeit not much laughter from the audience) concerns were being raised by the Park staff as to the Health and Safety issues for the forecasted extremely heavy rain and strong winds.  The cast were naturally prepared to ‘carry on’. However, the decision was sensibly taken out of their hands.  I watched (big eyes) and listened (big ears) as the Directors and their team tried in vain to arrange alternative venues before the Hawth box office ran out of time to inform people.  The end result being they arranged to add a performance on Sunday – with the option given for attendance at either performance. Everyone I spoke with appeared delighted with the arrangements; with many admitting that even if the performance had not been cancelled on Saturday they probably would not have ventured out anyway.  The support for the professional approach and dedication of the entire cast to ensure they did not let anyone down was evident by the size of the audience at the  Sunday afternoon performance.  The laughter could be heard down in the Café area of the walled garden.  I’m sure even the Mad hatter would take his hat off!!  Which brings me nicely on to ‘the cast’ themselves………

……Ben Baeza (Mad hatter) was a fantastic part of a double act with Chris Whitmore (White Rabbit) – setting the scene for some superb quick-fire wit throughout – combined with some well-timed ad-lib participation with the audience.  One could be forgiven for not recognising who was Tweedledum or Tweedledee as Catherine Carpenter and Alysha Finch-Parsons bounced off of each other ‘as one’ – keeping the audience entertained with their antics in and around the performance area even when not directly involved in the dialogue.  The change of voice intonation of Marie Browne and Katey Fraser primarily as the March Hare and Dormouse as they doubled as the Queen’s workers, was not only brilliantly received, but demonstrated the flexibility these guys all have when having more parts than players! Ali Storm (Cat/Knight) looked splendid in his chain-mail. His antics increased with each performance, culminating in him arriving on his trusty steed Rudolph? Yes you read that correctly!  Kayley Ann Rainton  brought a haunting aspect to time itself.  Pip O’Neill (Humpty+) performed a superb balancing act (not only using a step-ladder as her wall) between undertaking parts and directing.  I’m sure we could all relate to the dilemma of the King of Hearts played by Richard Evans-Thomas in his attempts to keep the peace with ‘the women in his life’- which he carried off to perfection.  Tamzin Harding (The caterpillar) was yet another brilliant addition to the cast, putting her physical theatre training into action as she slithered her way around the set.  The regal element of Wonderland was very much in vogue through  Elizabeth Mcnally (Duchess) in her wonderful costumes and Sophia Young (Queen of Hearts).  Then finally we have the star of the show title:- Faye Lord as Alice.  What a daunting prospect Faye took on as a first-timer with UNMASKED THEATRE embracing the child-adolescent character created by Lewis Carroll with vigour. What a fantastic job the Directors,  Pip O’Neill and Luke Ofield, achieved  in their casting choices.

And finally…………….considering the changes necessitated by the weather (some start times were adjusted) I heard very few moans and groans from the waiting audiences – main concerns being on length of times versus car parking tickets. I did however hear lots of people complimenting the performances and cast – with a suggestion being put forward that they would love to see them producing a version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – is that a classic now I wonder?

Fay Watters

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