It's time to walk the wire
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Alice in Funderland A New Musical is at the Abbey Theatre
Friday 30 March – Saturday 12 May 2012
(Previews Friday 30 March – Tuesday 03 April)

Book & Lyrics: Phillip McMahon
Composer: Raymond Scannell
Director: Wayne Jordan

Main image: Sarah Greene in Alice in Funderland. Photo: Jack Phelan

Right: Phillip McMahon and Jennifer Jennings of THISISPOPBABY

Left: Mark O’Regan, Philip Connaughton, Aileen Mythen and Emmet Kirwan in rehearsal for Alice in Funderland. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

It's time to walk the wire

Production Diaries: Theatre makers discuss works-in-progress

Playwright Phillip McMahon comes up for air midway through tech week of Alice in Funderland, the first new musical to open at the Abbey Theatre in over 20 years: "This is the week where things need to be figured out. It’s a week of solutions."

"You get one chance to dance

To stand in the fire

One shot to explode

It’s time to walk the wire"

...is just one set of lyrics to hit the Alice In Funderland rehearsal room floor in an epic culling of text and song  this week. Cutting favourite scenes, lines, and in this case song, is flippantly referred to as ‘killing babies’ in the theatre. The saying oversells the agony, but it’s painful nonetheless. It’s technical rehearsal week in the theatre – the time when lights, visuals, sound, music, set, costume, hair, make-up, singing, dancing and acting finally meet on the same stage and inevitably at first, they don’t get on. This is the week where things need to be figured out. It’s a week of solutions. One solution has been to cut some much-loved scenes from the play. For one reason: to make the experience in the theatre as perfect as possible for the audience. No-one sets out to make a boring play (although I’ve questioned that sometimes as an audience member), but at Team Alice we dreamt up this project with the audience and the experience we are looking to deliver to them at the forefront of our minds. Alice In Funderland aims to reflect society, sure, but she also wishes to offer an audience an emotional release, a cracking night out and a glittery fist full of fun.

THISISPOPBABY.JPGIt has been a long road to the auditorium of the Abbey Theatre. This project started life four years ago, when myself and Jennifer Jennings (my cohort at THISISPOPBABY) had the idea of creating a raucous, large-scale piece of entertainment. An event that was of the city, and for the city. A happening, that offered people the same visceral experience they were getting in the pit of The O2 at that amazing gig, or on the dancefloor of Tripod on that chemical high. It was a big ask. The answer, of course, was a musical!

If I had’ve bothered to check, I’d have noticed that my whole life was spiralling towards this moment. From the vinyl LP of Grease given to me by my dad at the age of seven and listened to for hours on end in a south London flat, to the restaging of scenes from Annie and Oliver with cousins and neighbours, the inevitable was well, inevitable. And now, back in London many years later, Jenny and I visit a playwright/actor/composer who we half know at his Tooting Broadway flat and over some bacon butties and some scribbled lyrics bashed out beautifully on an electric piano, we ask Raymond Scannell if he’d like to make a musical with us. He pours the tea and says he would. Soon after, Wayne Jordan and his magic wand joins the team and it’s clear from the get go that this is going to be a wild ride.

AliceinF2.jpgThe show was developed over four years. Several workshops and showings happened over that time. We collected actors as we went and with each workshop or public showcase, the piece grew. Alice was always an ambitious project, but without that development period supported by The Arts Council, Project Arts Centre, Dublin City Council, the Abbey Theatre and ourselves at THISISPOPBABY, this show would not be gracing the stage of the National Theatre. Individuals and organisations have believed in this idea enough to give us time and space and money to create and develop this show into the main stage event it is today. It is worth noting that, and worth mentioning that this isn’t the norm, but if we want to see more work of scale from younger companies, the investment and time needs to be there. We are lucky and grateful that it was afforded to us.

Over the past few years we have researched musicals, read books, devised with actors, spent weeks locked away in Annaghmakerrig writing, staged private and public showings, built relationships with funding partners and potential producing partners and invented a whole new process for ourselves. We have worked hard, and we have laughed hard. This musical has been made with a spirit of fun and an audience in mind. For it to be shown at the Abbey is a privilege.

“It’s time to walk the wire.”


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