GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST – 4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The fourth in the series of GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, staged at Theatre By The Lake in Keswick – Christmas 2002.

This was the second Christmas in a row that I spent in the delightful surroundings of Keswick – having been Musical Director for THE WIZARD OF OZ the previous year.

Personal highlights:

> Being invited back to work with the incredible production team of Ian Forrest – Director; Martin Johns – Designer; and Lorelei Lynn – Choreographer; together with Paul Bunn – Sound Designer & Jo Dawson – Lighting designer.

> Composing my first score for a Christmas Show. I had only written incidental music before this, so this was both a lot of pressure, and hugely exciting at the same time. We went for a collection of songs and music based on Victoriana – Parlour Songs, Operetta and Music Hall. Here’s one of the songs – TURTLE SOUP – sung by Stephen Boswell as “The Mock Turtle”…

> Spending time in such a beautiful part of the world – with unbelievable views from both my digs, and the Theatre:

> Working in another venue with a true community spirit. Theatre by the Lake is another building where everyone in it is completely invested in the work they produce, and the local community feels part of the building and its work too.

Favourite Theatrical Anecdote:

The end of run Cabaret night.

As with many shows I’ve been involved with, Members of the Cast, Crew & Theatre staff staged an End of Run Cabaret night as part of the last night party. We put together a house band – and various people performed a disparate collection of songs.

We were lucky to have, amongst our fine cast, the incomparable Claude Close. Claude was incredibly dedicated to his work – and both in rehearsal and performance was always very focussed. He wasn’t keen on anything that would disturb his process, and so particularly where children were concerned, he could come across as a little “grumpy” at times – and our young cast quickly learned that getting in Claude’s way was not a good idea! (His focus of course made him a joy to work with, and his performances were always fantastic, and very consistent.) The Characters he played in the show were all generally quite fierce too (Humpty Dumpty, The Dodo, and The King of Hearts), so both on and off stage, the children in the show generally kept their distance.

Claude’s personal taste in music tended towards Rock music, particularly obscure German “Kraut-Rock” bands!. On the night of the Cabaret, Claude decided he would perform PARANOID by Black Sabbath. Thanks to the technical department, the band entered the stage area in the bar by coming out of the lift in a haze of smoke, and flashing lights. Claude had gone for the full OZZY OSBOURNE look, complete with long wig, and glasses – and absolutely ripped out the vocals full pelt. The children in the cast had taken up their places right in front of the stage area, and all sat open mouthed, rather like the audience at “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers”. After that, Claude acquired a new found Cult Status amongst our young cast, and, much to his outward chagrin, but I’m sure inner pleasure, became a sort of Pied Piper figure, as they all followed him around!

The full cast of the show was: IAN BLOWER – Lory / Mad Hatter / Gryphon; STEPHEN BOSWELL – Duchess / Rose / Mock Turtle; CLAUDE CLOSE – Dodo / Humpty Dumpty / King of Hearts; SARA COWARD – Queen of Hearts, Tiger Lily, Voice of the Cheshire Cat; ALISON DARLING – Alice; DARREN SOUTHWORTH – Duck / Cook / March hare; ADAM SUNDERLAND – White Rabbit / Tweedledum; JOHN WEBB – Caterpillar / Tweedledee / Knave of Hearts

Memories of those no longer with us:

Claude Close – Humpty Dumpty

CLAUDE CLOSE: Claude was a fantastic actor, with an even more fantastic tenor voice. We wrote him a song as Humpty Dumpty especially to show off his talents. The melody line got higher and higher, until he eventually hit a top note – only to interrupted by Alice’s immortal line “How exactly like an egg he looks”. I was lucky enough to work with Claude many times, and we could always share tales of Bradford City & Kettering Town.

John Webb – Tweedledee / Alison Darling – Alice / Adam Sunderland – Tweedledum

JOHN WEBB: John was a proper “Old School” actor – and he could always draw a precise and well researched character. He was also a walking directory of theatrical anecdotes – and could entertain for hours with his wit and sharp intellect. He was also a member of the Equity Council, and was a champion of Performer’s rights.

EPILOGUE (Excerpt)
Sara Coward – The Cheshire Cat

SARA COWARD: Sara was a wonderful Actor, with a truly delightful voice. She was best known to radio listeners as Caroline Pemberton in THE ARCHERS, but also had an extensive career in the Theatre. Alongside her syrupy voiced Cheshire Cat, she also played a truly terrifying Queen of Hearts.

LORELEI LYNN: Lo was a fabulous choreographer, and wonderful human being, with a generous spirit, unstoppable energy, and an infectious laugh. Being in rehearsals with Lo was always a joy, and made the creative process easy and fun.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who were involved with the show, or came to see it, who can add some memories of their own – either in the comments box below, or on my posts on Twitter and Facebook.

This is a very difficult time for those working in the Entertainment Industry, and for theatres, so if you are in a position where you can help out in any way, here are the links to the MU and Equity hardship funds, and to the Theatre by the Lake fundraising page:

Musicians Union Coronavirus Hardship Fund:

Equity Benevolent Fund:

Theatre by the Lake Re-opening Appeal:


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