Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

James Clutton: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

By | Published on Thursday 23 July 2015

You may be aware of Opera Holland Park’s summer series of outdoor performances, and if so, you may already know of the operatic version of ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ that’s now completing its third successful year as part of the annual season. If, on the other hand, you are a newcomer to opera, or are seeking to introduce your young charges to its joys, this might be a show you want to find out more about.


To find out all about this musical version of the much loved classic, I sent some questions over to producer James Clutton.

CM: We all know the story of Alice, of course, but this show is bit different, given the way it is staged. Can you give audiences an idea of what to expect from the show?
JC: We play the show outside in a park and in a promenade way, which means that the singers, the orchestra and the audience move around to get from one scene to the next. The audience all sit on cushions on the grass very close to the singers and the orchestra, so they feel very involved.

CM: It’s rare for opera to be aimed at a youth/family audience. Who are you hoping to appeal to with a show like this? Would you regard it as a good introduction to opera for children?
JC: When I commissioned this piece I asked the writers for ‘The Simpsons’ – as in, I wanted something that would appeal to adults and children – that both groups would sometimes laugh at the same line bit for different reasons. I think it is an excellent introduction to opera for children, but also an excellent introduction for adults coming to opera for the first time too.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creators of the opera?
JC: The composer is Will Todd and the librettist is Maggie Gottlieb. Will is probably best known for his jazz setting of the Latin mass, ‘Mass in Blue’, and the music he was commissioned to write for the Queen’s Jubilee. This is Maggie’s first opera. The pair of them knew each other but hadn’t worked together as a team before until we put them together to write ‘Alice’. So that went well!

CM: This is the show’s third staging at Holland Park. Has it been the same cast each year? Have there been any changes to the piece since the premiere?
JC: A lot of the cast are the same as when we did the workshops on the opera, seven months before the premiere. Each year some of the cast change but we have been very lucky to keep a great group of people together; but also, when someone new has come in (four new cast members this year) they have always brought a new energy to it. Our director Martin Duncan always keeps things fresh too, and he and I always look at different aspects of the production to make sure our own high standards are being kept.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
JC: Alice is played by Fflur Wyn and she has been Alice since the start – from the initial workshop stage. Most of the cast have worked for Opera Holland Park on the main stage for many years. We have always taken ‘Alice’ very seriously by putting as good a team as is possible on it – principal company singers. We have also introduced a few singers like Daisy Brown, Samantha Price and Joanna Marie Skillet, who are now making their company debuts in Alice and now they are part of the company it would be great to continue working with them on Alice and on our main stage.

CM: Would you say that creating a promenade performance is more challenging? Is it hard to keep chins up when the British weather fails you…?
JC: It is harder in some ways, as the conditions do change from day to day. Not only with rain, but with wind or clouds affecting how everything looks. But I think that is an exciting thing. I do tend to be checking the weather minute by minute on the morning of an Alice performance. We never let it bother us too much if it’s raining and we can’t be outside as we have developed a wet weather version which takes place inside the theatre and works very well.

CM: ‘Alice’ is also paying a visit to the Wilderness Festival, isn’t it? How did those performances come about?
JC: I knew some of the team at Wilderness Festival from some previous work we had done together. In the 150th anniversary year of the publication of Alice, it seemed the perfect time to visit this wonderful festival which has so many activities for families to enjoy together. For the performances we also have a walled garden at the festival which is just perfect.

CM: What’s next for the show? Any more tour dates? Do you expect to be back next year?
JC: ‘Alice’ will be performing at the Royal Opera House for four performances in November. We will be bringing Alice back to Opera Holland Park next summer as it’s always so popular with our audiences. We have just released the CD recording of Alice and it went straight to number one in the specialist classical chart, so there may well be more performances somewhere before next summer. You never know.

‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ is on at Opera Holland Park until 1 Aug. See the production website here, for more info and tickets.

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