Tom Waits opera for Christchurch
Alice by Robert Wilson/Tom Waits/Kathleen
After Lewis Carroll
Directed by Peter Falkenberg
Free Theatre, The Gym, Christchurch Arts
Centre, 28 Worcester Boulevard
3 – 19 May 2018
Alice is presented with the support of the Christchurch Arts Centre, Creative New Zealand, Phantom Billstickers, RDU, Mainland Foundation, Pub Charity, McAlpines Timber and AC Lighting.
Tom Waits opera for Christchurch: "adult songs for children, or children's songs for adults".
“This is kinda Lewis Carroll... You know he fell on the ice of a pond and he broke his watch one day and he never got it fixed. And he said, that's what happened to him. He said, as long as his watch was broken he could always stay in this world you know, that he invented for him and for her, so…”
Childhood is the paradise we all appear to have lost, but where none of us has actually ever been. The yearning for this lost wonderland is expressed in Lewis Carroll‘s Alice tales and in the popular success that they still have so many years later. But the childish fantasies that we find here also harbour beneath all their alluring whimsy the bitter cruelties that are part of our childhood experience, which we tend to erase from our memories. In Robert Wilson‘s and Tom Waits‘ Alice these Victorian fantasies are replayed as bittersweet realities of the actual lives of the author Charles Dodgson and his muse Alice and are revealed as still being alive today in our own minds.
Alice is one of three works that emerged from a successful collaboration between Waits and renowned theatre director Wilson. Free Theatre’s New Zealand première last year of the pair’s work The Black Rider: the casting of magic bullets (co-created with William S. Burroughs) led to a sell-out opening season and a successful return season for the Christchurch Arts Festival. As a follow-up, Free Theatre’s Alice will work from the images and music created by Wilson and Waits and reimagine them in the context of contemporary Christchurch.
Director Peter Falkenberg expects Alice to provide audiences with unexpected but strangely relatable experiences of childhood. He says that Alice combines and mixes two stories, “one is about the Victorian fun fair Wonderland with its surface innocence; the other is about Charles Dodgson, the inhibited and speech impaired photographer, clergyman and mathematician at Christ Church College Oxford and his erotic dream life”. The fun fair shows its darker underside and reveals a surreal freak show. Tom Waits called it a "fever dream" or a "time poem" with "adult songs for children, or children's songs for adults". The songs went on to form one of Waits’ most beloved albums, also titled ‘Alice’.
Engaging with the underlying themes of the work, the set, designed by Stuart Lloyd-Harris is also inspired by French illusionist and early film pioneer Georges Méliès. The company has presented a diversity of exciting environments for productions in The Gym, including Kafka’s Amerika, Footprints/Tapuwae, Frankenstein and The Black Rider, leading to a reputation for unusual and exciting experiences for local audiences. Alice will continue to build this reputation.
This is the first of two major music-theatre works being developed and presented by the company this year in The Gym. In August, the next iteration of an ongoing project inspired by Argentinian-German composer Mauricio Kagel will see the return of Free Theatre collaborators composer Gao Ping and conductor Hamish McKeich. Producer George Parker says these projects are designed to push the usual boundaries between music and theatre, “we want to keep offering Christchurch audiences new, fresh and contemporary experiences in the Arts Centre to show what is possible in the new city”.
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