Sat | Feb 22, 2020

Jamaican make-over for ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Published:Saturday | May 18, 2019 | 12:06 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer

Alice In Wonderland, a hilarious Jamaican adaptation of the Disney classic, will come to life on June 1 and 2 at the Phoenix Theatre in New Kingston courtesy of a talented bunch of children and Wonderland Productions, whose CEO just happens to be named Alice.

“It is not a copy of Walt Disney’s; it is my own style,” scriptwriter and early childhood education specialist Alice Hogarth emphasised. “It brings in the Jamaican culture, some Patois, music and dancing,” she elaborated.

Promising that there are scenes with which many theatregoers will easily identify, she revealed that when Alice meets the portly twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, for example, they start singing a song that is rooted in the island’s folk culture and was popularised by the late Louise ‘Miss Lou’Bennett-Coverley.

“They start singing, ‘Dis long time gal me neva see yuh, come mek mi hold your hand,’ and what is really more interesting is that some of the kids didn’t know it. That gave me the opportunity to tell them about Miss Lou and peel-head johncrow and even show them some of the actions,” she stated.

Hogarth, who is celebrating her 50th production with this play, said it is the rich cultural heritage of Jamaica that makes her productions special, whether they are adaptations or originals. And although this is the third time that her company will be staging Alice in Wonderland, she is still quite excited and is determined to make the nights extra special.

The concept, as dreamed up by her director, Jerry Benzwick, is that when patrons enter the theatre, it will be as if they had stepped right into that magical place called Wonderland. Everywhere will be transformed – not just the stage – and for Hogarth, this message of transformation goes beyond the physical layout.

“I can hardly believe it is 50 plays!” she exclaimed. “When we were looking through our archives to get ideas for the 50th, I came across Alice and knew we just had to stage it again. It was one of our most successful plays, and when I look at the kids at rehearsals, I know that I made the right choice. But there is a message that I want everybody to leave with, and it has to do with our personal transformation as we go through life,” said Hogarth, whose Christian beliefs run strong and who compared herself to the apostle Paul.

This year marks a double milestone for Hogarth because her company is celebrating its 25th anniversary. “So that’s two plays per year,” she reasoned. “And there have been so many times at the end of a a production and I have been so tired that I vow that it’s my last, but the parents just laugh because they know differently. And the truth is that the children are my main inspiration. There are so many of them who have issues, and it is through these dramatic productions that they learn to deal with them, and they eventually heal,” she told The Gleaner.

She noted that sometimes at the end of a production, a parent thanks her for the help given to their child, and it is at that point that she learns that the child had been on medication or even suicidal.

Hogarth, who taught at Hillel Academy for more than 20 years, considers the nurturing environment that she offers through drama the panacea for the ills of some of the children with whom she has come in contact throughout the years. Although her productions cater to children from age four upwards, this time around, there are two three-year-olds who, she says, are simply awesome because they know their lines and the movements and keep up with the older cast members.

Explaining her recruitment process, she said, “We don’t put the children through a rigorous audition process and then reject them. We have a mixed group, and somehow, it always works out. We realise that some children are naturally talented, others are a little reserved, and we help them find their self-esteem, and then there are those who are unwilling and only turn up because they parents take them. But it is this group that we have the most success with. They never fail to surprise us,” she said, adding, “As Shakespeare said in Twelfth Night, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.’”