Alice in Canning Town: an urban adaptation of Alice in Wonderland

Our Middlesex colleagues, playwright James Kenworth and director James Martin Charlton, have been awarded the prestigious Royal Docks Trust Grant to write and stage an innovative, site-specific play, 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.

The play will reflect the ever-changing face of the East End over the years, from Cockney to Bangra, Krays to Stormzy, and will be 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.

The performance will feature a combination of professional actors, young performers from the local area, and a live youth orchestra. James’s previous plays have all given opportunities and experience to local young performers, and explored the Borough’s rich political history. The show will be performed at Arc in the Park in the Summer of 2019.

Middlesex English & Creative Writing students may be involved in the creative process which will chiefly benefit young people from Newham.

James Kenworth and James Martin Charlton

The show will build on the pioneering work the playwright (James Kenworth, Lecturer in Media Narrative) and director (James Martin Charlton, Head of Media) have done in the field of education, community and site-specific theatre. James Kenworth’s most recent play, A Splotch of Red, was the third in a loose trilogy of East End-based plays, all dealing with revolution and social change, and all performed in appropriate locations in the London Borough of Newham. It follows When Chaplin met Gandhi, staged in 2012 at Kingsley Hall, where the Indian leader stayed during his 1931 visit to Britain, and Revolution Farm, a ‘hoodie version’ of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, performed in 2014 at Newham City Farm, in the shadows of Canary Wharf.

Arc in the Park

Arc-pic1Arc in the Park is a vibrant and dynamic Adventure Playground, featuring tree houses, swings, trampolines, rope bridges, giant slides, teepees, and as such, is a perfect fit for the playful and surreal world of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Its unusual and imaginative play resources make it an exciting and unique performance space for an Alice in Wonderland reimagined for the East End.

The Arc provides a Newham-wide delivery and resource base for young people with disabilities and/or additional needs and their families. We will work closely with Arc in the Park’s management body, Newham charity, Ambition, Aspire, Achieve, to provide opportunities for local young people to be involved in the making of a professional theatre show. Kevin Jenkins OBE founded AAA because of a longstanding desire to provide opportunities for the youth of Newham and East London. AAA have an exemplary track record in providing activities and experiences for young people in the Newham and East London area that build confidence and expand minds.

The park’s unique array of adventure play resources and building structures make it a perfect fit for Alice’s adventures in Canning Town. We envisage 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, with critics singling out the promenade staging for praise. The Independent’s Theatre Critic Paul Taylor wrote: “The unique selling points of this version are not just the in-yer-face modernity of the language and attitudes, but the fact that it unfolds as a promenade performance in the precincts of a genuine inner-city farm.”

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