Guest Blog: Playwright James Kenworth On ALICE IN CANNING TOWN
Alice in Canning Town is a brand-new, contemporary, urban adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland', reconfigured for the East End, and performed site-specific in Arc in the Park, an inclusive adventure playground in Canning Town. Alice is the fourth in a quartet of East End-based plays by James Kenworth, all dealing with revolution and social change, and all performed in appropriate locations.
25 October, 2018
Meeting with Kevin Jenkins, co-founder of local charity Community Links. A few years ago, Kevin invited me to stage a new version of Orwell's Animal Farm on Newham City Farm, which Community Links managed. Kevin's new charity, Ambition Aspire Achieve, manages Arc in the Park and he's invited me down to the Arc to discuss putting on a play on there.
As we walk around the Park, I marvel at the weird and wonderful staging opportunities that this unique adventure playground presents. With its treehouses, swings, trampolines, rope bridges, giant slides and teepees, it's a perfect fit for the playful and surreal world of Alice in Wonderland.
My 'USP' for Alice is this: the new version reflects the changing face of the East End over the years, from Cockney to Bangra, from Ronnie and Reggie Kray to Stormzy. It's a celebration of not only one of the best-loved fantasies of all time, but a kaleidoscopic and action-packed journey through an East End that survived Hitler's Blitz and reinvented itself as a leading light in multicultural Britain. Hence the new title, Alice in Canning Town.
12 January, 2019
I'm in an adaptor's research dilemma. I'm torn between devouring every version of Alice on the planet or simply ignoring the lot. My fear/dread if I watch and read everything Alice is that I might be unconsciously/unintentionally influenced and start to copy/mimic Carroll.
I need to put my stamp on Alice, and although I've already decided that my version will be specially reconfigured for the East End, I must run away from Carroll as far as possible. Ignoring what's out there, or what's already been done, is the "confidence of ignorance" Orson Welles talked about, and this approach worked very well for Revolution Farm, my contemporary reworking of Orwell's Animal Farm. So, couldn't it work for Alice too?
I don't think you can sit on the fence here. Either you do it straight, like Tim Burton, or you take it in a radical new direction (Jan Svankmajer's animated version). My gut feeling is that if you do something in between/neither here nor there, you'll confuse the audience - especially a theatre audience, who instinctively know everything that happens on stage is immediate, happening now, in the present, and the time to dwell and reflect is a luxury for the novel reader only.
8 March, 2019
A trip to Greenwich today meant I could pop into Waterstones and continue my increasingly desperate hunt for a cartoon/graphic version of Alice in Wonderland. All my efforts so far have proved in vain. What I need is a stripped-down version of Alice, preferably with lots and lots of pictures. All I want is the bare bones of the story.
I told the bookseller I was looking for a cartoon/graphic version of Alice, heavy on pics, low on text. She was doubtful. All looked lost, and I thought about retiring to the nearest pub to nurse my rage at an uncaring and cruel world with a soothing and intoxicating pint. But a moment later she came back with a Ladybird Classics version. The story's been abridged and retold for children and there's lots of illustrations and it's only 70 pages. Ah, perfect. My Alice in Canning Town has begun.
29 July, 2019
First day of rehearsals. Director James Martin Charlton shows the cast and creative team photos of Arc in the Park and talks about his plans for the staging. We are having a promenade-style performance for Alice, with the audience following the play's story around the environs of the Park. This kind of staging was achieved very successfully with the production of Revolution Farm at Newham City Farm.
I make a mental note of how many times JMC uses the phrase "a challenge" when talking about staging Alice in the park. I make it about seven. It will be a challenge, of course. Different. Risky. Curiouser and curiouser even. Or, in my version, "madder and madder".