Thursday, September 22, 2011

Alice in Wonderland in our own Wonderland - Off the Ground Theatre in Lismore Castle

Alice down the Rabbit Hole
Last month saw the return of the terrific English Touring Theatre Company Off The Ground Theatre to their annual gig in Lismore Castle. This year they put on a terrific, insane, wacky and wonderful Alice in Wonderland for their Irish tour of various castles and big houses. They were here for one night only, in the courtyard of Lismore Castle as they have done for the past decade, and after a few years of Shakespearian comedies they produced a totally different show - Alice in Wonderland and a cast of all the characters in the original Lewis Carroll book. The Mad Hatter, The Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Queen of Hearts, the Dormouse, The White Rabbit, and Alice shrinking and growing very convincingly by varying the size of the sets - a big door or a small door, a big key or a small key, and a big or small bottle saying Drink Me! I loved Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass as a child, and the magic came right back when I soaked up the atmosphere of the show.

The only downside was the rain - it was a relentless Irish Mist worthy of Hollywood trying to find an Irish stereotype - it didn't pour and if you glanced out the window you might be forgiven for thinking it wasn't raining at all - that the wet ground was the aftermath of a recent shower. However, a few minutes outside would disabuse you fairly fast - it was a fine spray mist that invaded every crevice of clothing and slowly drenched from the outside in - and made for misery in no time. I went down to the castle for the 7:30pm start armed with a large shopping bag equipped with the following -
  • a beach towel (optimist!) for the chair; 
  • a roll of black bag bin liners as I didn't have a mac and to put under the towel, over my shoulders, on my head, and on my lap; 
  • a couple of cotton shawls for extra warmth;
  • bottle of water;
  • a few packets of Tayto crisps - ubiquitous and indispensible for any outdoor event
  • a roll of Rowntree Fruit Pastilles for a sugar rush 
  • Painting the trees for the Queen of Hearts
  • a Twix Bar - for more sugar rushes. 

Song and dance with Alice
The posh people in the audience who came from further afield for the show were much more organised and had brought proper outdoor theatrical fare - cheese and wine in proper glasses, with wicker hampers and Tupperware full of tasty tapas and fancy vittles - but I was far too disorganised to be so pretentiously upmarket. Aspiring to be an Irish Glyndebourne or Tanglewood is great but as this is on such a small scale with an audience of about 100 you get all sorts of people turning up. There are a smattering of locals, a few from the surrounding area, and a number who travel from further afield, and who evidently see this event as a high point on the social calender of the summer.

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser!
Alice in Wonderland
The castle's upper garden is accessible during the interval, and there was an opportunity to meet and greet the cast, all very informally. I managed to scrounge a plastic poncho from either Tweedledum or Tweedledee at the interval - I think he felt sorry for this dripping black-bag lady and when I asked if there were any leftover he went off and got me one. Many of those who'd arrived earlier than me had snagged one and I was quite impressed with its effectiveness in keeping the elements at bay. Umbrellas are a no-no at these gigs as they ruin the view for the punters sitting in the rows behind and also they drip relentlessly down everyone else's neck. I love that the show starts at 7:30 in daylight and goes on through dusk to floodlit darkness in the beautiful courtyard - and as befits every Off the Ground performance they intersperse the play with terrific song and dance routines - and plenty of audience participation for the kids sitting on the grass in the front row!
The well-wrapped audience in the floodlights - not sun!

I took some photos and videoclips so I hope you get a sense of the atmosphere of the misty August night. If you ever get a chance to catch this company's tour you'll be in for a rare treat, as they only do a dozen or so gigs in Ireland every year.


Rudee said...

It looks like it was great fun even without the wine and cheese.

Marilyn Miller said...

What fun! Thanks for sharing with us.

MTeacress said...

I miss seeing your wonderfully unique posts. :)

Stopping by to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday!