by Gary Carter @ Saddleworth Independent
NO-ONE can deny Carol Davies’ commitment to making sure a 50th anniversary is marked in the right way – a day-and-a-half making lobster costumes exemplified that.
Throw in controlling 23 cast members, to the point of putting fingers on lips to make sure they stay quiet – with the older ones needing telling most.
That is just a glimpse of what is going into Alice at the theatre at Delph’s Millgate Arts Centre.
The production, based on two of Lewis Carroll’s classics, has been chosen to mark the golden anniversary after moving to its current base in November 1973.
Some of those who took part in the very first productions will once again be on stage, along with members of Saddleworth Players Youth (SPY).
And Carol believes the effort put in to make Alice the best will be shown with brilliant performances.
She said: “Alice is wild, it’s wonderful. I did spend a day-and-a-half making lobster costumes, as you do on a Tuesday!
“The cast takes some controlling, certainly on that small stage.
“When I taught theatre, I’d often work with casts of 60, who would all be teenagers. Now I have a cast aged from 12 to 80-plus and the 70 and 80-year-olds are the most talkative and have to be told off.
“The teenagers are wonderful. I’ve been reduced to fingers on lips!
“It’s been great fun, with lots of laughter and craziness – as befits a Lewis Carroll book.
“The logistics have challenged me but it’s not just the cast, the crew has been absolutely phenomenal.
“Costumes have made 78 garments, props have created all kinds of crazy things, everything from a moving post box to the most gross-looking fish pie you’ve ever seen.
“There are also visuals, sound, lighting. One of the great things about this play is it’s given opportunity for creativity, and everyone’s just rolled up their sleeves and had a ball.
“And it’s great because it’s a company – that company is cast and crew.”
Alice – which has Kira Richardson in the main role and several people playing multiple parts – may be based on Alice in Wonderland and feature classic characters like the White Rabbit but the similarities stop there.
While the film starts on a riverbank watching rabbits, Laura Wade’s play begins at a funeral tea in contemporary Sheffield after Alice Little’s 17-year-old brother was killed in a drink-driving accident.
And the adventures are all rooted in the trauma the main character is going through.
“It’s quite a sober beginning,” Carol added. “But the playwright has made sense of that sort of journey.
“Each episode Alice, who retreated into herself because of grief, goes through is a learning experience. It’s entertaining but it’s teaching how to deal with grief.
“It features making that first step of trying to carry on living without guilt. It’s a great play, clever with lots of parallels.”
Alice, which opens on Saturday, November 18, is the production around which Millgate’s 50th birthday will be celebrated.
It is more than just Saddleworth Players’ theatre – it is also home to Saddleworth Film Society, as well as Saddleworth Concert Society and attracts professional productions like the pantomime.
And its impact goes beyond a night out, as SPY’s involvement in Alice shows – although it is pretty good at delivering those.
“We were looking for a play to celebrate the anniversary and this one seemed perfect for including what I call the Golden Chorus – those who were in the very first plays – and SPY.
“It’s a theatre community really and the play itself, which is so interesting, was the perfect vehicle for doing that.
“It celebrates Saddleworth Players at the Millgate. A lot of people in the area have either trod the boards, helped behind the bar or volunteered.
“It’s a voluntary organisation, people aren’t paid. People do things voluntarily, as I am, and it’s a tremendous cultural spot as it’s home to different societies and is a receiving house for things like the panto and single-evening acts, whether it’s music or stand-up comedy.
“It’s a real gem in the area. It’s great for Delph but it’s at the heart of Saddleworth really. It’s a real community hub for the arts.”
*ALICE at the theatre at Delph’s Millgate Arts Centre starts on Saturday, November 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £12 for adults and £6 for under-19s.
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Original interview by Gary Carter in Saddleworth Independent reproduced from below