Francois Pandolfo: Alix in Wundergarten’s rollercoaster ride

August 19, 2016 by

Alix in Wundergarten has been on a real rollercoaster ride since its incarnation. The run at The Other Room was a great success and seemed to be received very well which was a huge relief as this was the first piece I’d ever written. Katy Owen (Co-director of difficult|stage) paved the way with The World of Work and A Cold Spread and I was starting to passionately understand where our voice was taking us so we all decided I could give it a bash (Ben Tyreman being the other co-founder and director of the company).

Knowing that writing is something I could possibly continue doing has opened up many avenues and ambitions. As an actor it’s been great writing for other actors, rejigging lines and narrative so it fits with their own creation in the rehearsal room. There’s nothing worse than finding a character through improvisation, research and imagination then having to force it to fit with a script. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed manipulating the writing in the second and third week of rehearsals so the actors feel complete ownership over the words and have their say in the outcome of the piece and where it should go. I’m a firm believer that with this formula you achieve a truthful and honest performance, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, hopefully it will still not come across forced or fake in any way…unless the show calls for it.
The companies we’ve had for both The Other Room and for The Edinburgh Fringe Festival have been a dream. Brave, Fearless, imaginative, insightful, hilariously funny and hard-working. Believing in a vision collectively meant we were all on the same page from the outset with everyone understanding the nature of the piece, the barriers we were trying to kick down and how to achieve this by thinking outside the box. This made the whole process much easier and also extremely fun.
Transitioning from our small intimate run at The Other Room to a 300 seater at The Underbelly was a massive task. We had to steer away from being precious about ‘how it was before’ in order to move the piece forward and develop a new structure that looked at delivering the show on a grander scale…This works for Nick Steed our veteran of the West end but probably filled Fabian our radio director with dread. Objectives shifted and the audiences’ role changed. After long discussions with Angharad Lee our (actual) director it was with measure that we aimed at creating a different show. Where was the fun and self progressive element in mimicking what we did before? Yes it felt like a success and it worked at Christmas but if I’m being honest it didn’t feel very ‘difficult|stage’ to give it to that safe method of reproduction. It also felt disloyal to the previous two actors who due to other commitments had to be recast for Edinburgh. This on top of cutting 35 minutes off the previous script was a real mission…and only 9 days to do so! We got there though. Some tears and diva strops later (mainly from me!) I was happy with the result as I hope was the whole creative team. Our response here has been great…It’s a show that you either love or hate, we always knew that and this has been reflected in the critique of the show on a wider audience and is a great result for the company. We have always aimed at challenging audiences and ourselves as well as rocking the boat. As an all in-inclusive company we hopefully manage to challenge (or offend!) everyone at some point in our shows so have to deal with the consequences. By antagonising in order to initiate discussion. Otherwise what’s the point? Especially at the moment, ‘nice theatre’ is not useful to me, people’s voices need to be heard and rules need to be broken. In all other areas people are breaking them so why not in theatre?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland breaks the rules of time, logic and reality, so with this in mind I tried to achieve the same by breaking a few strict theatre forms, looking particularly at emulating the unsafe and unfamiliar world Alice finds herself in with an audience who maybe feel unsure and often complicit themselves. Unsure of what’s actually happening in front of them but implicated in some way to the atrocious things that happen because they don’t stop it or in fact encourage it by laughing. All this in a back drop of the already unstable world of actors and their egos seemed a perfect setting and one that I feel I can draw from through personal experience.
The Other Room have recently launched their Autumn season and difficult|stage are very pleased to be asked back again as resident company to produce their alternative Christmas Show. I wouldn’t dare to try to emulate the working of Lewis Carroll because I will fail miserably but it makes complete sense to me to shadow Alice as she steps through the looking glass in Carroll’s sequel and bring our own follow-up to Alix with ‘Looking Through Glass’. Construction is under way. Maybe expect some of the same maybe not…who knows, anything can happen and all areas are accessible. In the meantime Edinburgh is still very much the current Wonderland and I may need suturing upon my return.

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