The cast of 'One Day in Wonderland'
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‘One Day in Wonderland’: an outdoor play that’s turned a local cafe into a theatre

For over a year, live entertainment has been largely off the menu; but Lights of London are bringing theatre back to Bethnal Green, converting a local cafe into an outdoor theatre to host a play for families.

This month will see live entertainment for families come to a new outdoor theatre in Bethnal Green, as production company Lights of London brings a version of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to the area. 

Cambridge Heath Road is perhaps most used by Bethnal Greeners to catch the tube from the underground station, but this half-term, families will be able to travel to wonderland, thanks to a play being held at a new outdoor theatre space at Pelican House Cafe. 

The play, ‘One Day in Wonderland’, will run from 31st May to 4th June. It is aimed at children aged six to 11. The show is outdoor and Covid-safe.

The set of the outdoor theatre
The set of the outdoor theatre. Image: Darrie Gardner

The cast of ‘One Day in Wonderland’ are currently rehearsing, eager to get back to performing. For professional actors like these, the pandemic has been particularly difficult.

Darrie Gardner is the producer of the show, she is also starring as the Red Queen and Dormouse. Darrie says that she really wanted to do a show for families coming out of the pandemic.

‘I really wanted to do a children’s show and family show, because families in particular have been locked up over the pandemic. I chose Bethnal Green because there’s plenty of families and estates around here. It’s a slightly different end of east London, there’s not many things like this in this end,’ Darrie says.

‘I think it’s also important for parents,’ says Jed McLoughlin who plays The White Rabbit, Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledum, ‘Especially with homeschooling and the stress that’s put on parents who are working from home, and also doing homeschooling at the same time, I think that having shows like this, where they’re able to go out again and enjoy live entertainment. I think it’s been long needed.’ 

The return of theatre has been a long time coming, this production was originally meant to take place over Christmas when coronavirus restrictions were due to be eased. The easing never took place, and so the play had to be delayed. 

The show is all socially-distanced and takes place outdoors, in the courtyard of Pelican House Cafe. Even for the practiced actors taking part, this can pose problems. As the cast speak, the challenges of outdoor theatre are punctuated by the sound of the overground train passing by and interrupting them. 

They are ready to meet this challenge head on. However, Michael J Ansley, who stars as the Mad Hatter and Caterpillar says that one of the biggest challenges is social distancing from each other as actors, but he notes that the space can be advantageous for what is a very high energy show with lots of moving about and music. These actors are keen to get back on stage and work with the challenges that coronavirus restrictions bring. 

Actor Michael J Ainsley rehearsing his role as the caterpillar
Michael J Ansley rehearsing a song for his role as the Caterpillar Image: Niamh Carroll

‘One Day in Wonderland’ is not a straight adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, it features novel aspects like the Cheshire Cat played by Paul-D Stephenson appearing virtually on a screen talking to Alice. But the actors involved in the adaptation believe that Lewis Carroll’s original characters hold a lot of value for the children of today. 

‘There are so many beautiful messages in the characters. Like the idea of daring to be different,’ says Miranda Braun who plays Alice, ‘ There’s a bit where the Cheshire Cat is calling Alice mad. And she asks, what do you mean by mad? She goes on to explain that lots of people at school have called her that because she loves to daydream and imagine. I think if encourages kids to do that, it’s a great thing.’

In 2021, perhaps children and families are more in need of wonderland than ever, and Darrie is keen that the play should be accessible to all. 

The tickets are priced at £10 for adults and £8 for children. 

‘These are some of the lowest prices in London, I didn’t want this to be a theatre where you had to pay £25 a ticket,’ she said, ‘I didn’t want it to be elitist, I want people who have maybe never gone to the theatre before to be able to come here.’ 

‘One Day in Wonderland’ runs from the 31st May to 4th June, and tickets are available here.

If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy this heritage piece on Repton Boxing Club.

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