It gets curiouser and curiouser. Our journey starts in the Wedgwood blue surrounds of the Winter Gardens Renaissance Room– with a storm in a teacup as to whether the giant teapot is fit to be pictured as it’s ‘not quite right yet’.
The teapot vanishes, like the Cheshire Cat, with a smile, but returns in time for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
It’s that kind of attention to detail, making the experience the sum total of its parts, rather than singling out any one element, which is likely to make Alice Through the Winter Gardens a hit.
It’s part performance, part promenade production – and committed to encouraging locals and visitors to appreciate what an asset we’ve got, in the form of the Winter Gardens.
It’s a tour of the Winter Gardens, using live performance, theatre, film, illusion, music, dance and design, which celebrates the heritage of a building which really does deserve to be called iconic, that most over-used of terms today.
The building will resonate with the voices of film stars, musicians and politicians, many long gone, but who have become part of the legend, their performances, songs, speeches seeping into the infrastructure.
It’s all thanks to Arts Council funding, £100k snared by the innovative arts team at Blackpool Council, who want to breathe new life into once jaded buildings. If you haven’t revisited the Winter Gardens recently to check out the refurbishment and all the lovely features revealed, this presents the perfect opportunity to do so, a touch of restoration comedy – with a cause.
“We’re delighted we have such a marvellous opportunity to showcase the Winter Gardens,” says Carolyn Primett, head of arts. “The enthusiasm is so inspiring. And it’s such a larger-than-life project.”
Hope Street Limited, of Liverpool, who have a track record of success for interactive, and often outside, work, bagged the contract, having fought off around 150 other contenders, and then emerged triumphant, from the shortlist, after a tour of the building triggered the kind of creativity that left Carolyn and co reeling.
“We were blown away by the building, and the ideas really started flowing then,” says Peter Ward, director.
“Alice Through the Winter Gardens just seemed such a natural, and appropriate, choice because it mirrors the feelings here.”
How do you bring an already surreal landscape to life, a vast complex of many rooms, and spaces, some very small, others incredibly large, and linked by such areas as the Renaissance Room, into the Spanish Room and, of course, the Baronial Hall.
And that’s before you step out and glimpse the fabulous restored dome of the building, or the Empress Ballroom or the Opera House and stand in the magnificent pocket theatre, the Pavilion, and wonder why someone did away with virtually everything but the stage, and facade, reducing it to little more than a stage set, from a fully functioning theatre in miniature.
The Winter Gardens was built for fun, dressed to impress, and there’s a surprise at every turn – with some unlikely guides now waiting to escort us through it all... in the form of the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, March Hare, Dormouse, the Red Queen (played by the only sandgrown ’un’ in the team, Lynne Payne) and ... where the heck is Alice?
It transpires we’re Alice, we the audience, the visitors, the locals, taken on this surreal romp through one of the resort’s finest, and most quirky, architectural masterpieces. We are Alice Through the Winter Gardens, no head band required, no special potions or treats “drink me”, “eat me”, because, as director Peter points out, “in some of these areas you feel very small indeed, and in others, very tall.”
Bang on cue, the White Rabbit (aka actress Emma Hirons) appears, muttering “I’m late, I’m late”, although with the teapot taken in temporary custody there’s no rush.
“It’s all very labyrinth-like,” says Emma, “and that’s the charm of the building. It’s already an adventure just walking through.”
Production designer Kathy Sandys has faced the greatest challenge, how to create a series of sets to complement various spaces, without detracting from them, or being overwhelmed. “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “I can’t wait to see how people react.”
There are up to 15 performances daily, in groups of up to 35, to book ring (01253) 290190, visit www.alicewintergardens.co.uk, or the box office, tickets from £5 concessions to £9.