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Wages of Sin Charles Dodgson | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
Wages of Sin Charles Dodgson | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
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David Kettle Uncovers The Real Lewis Carroll

Picture of Ellen Ridsdale
Updated: 24 June 2016
This summer, director David Kettle takes on a new musical, CLD – The Real Lewis Carroll, in which we see the lives of author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his creation, Alice, interlink. The play uses the original text, songs and well-loved characters of the beloved novels as well as the history of the life of Dodgson and his tragic love affair. It’s an irresistible combination that David Kettle could not pass up to stage in Oxford.

Could you tell us a bit more about CLD – The Real Lewis Carroll?

The Real Lewis Carroll is the story of the author behind the famous ‘Alice’ books – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. His personal character and development was at odds with the magical world that he created in the much-loved novels, and this piece tells how Charles Dodgson first creates the ideas that form the books and gives some insight into this socially awkward character.

Golden Afternoon | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
Golden Afternoon | © Oxford Music Theatre

What prompted you to combine both the fantastical elements of the Alice in Wonderland novels with the tragic life of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (CLD)?

As a director, one is always looking for new ways to interpret well-known stories. His own personal story is so at odds with the world he created that it was an irresistible combination.

What are you hoping to bring out from the audience by this combination?

An insight into how genius seems to be always linked to some kind of mental vulnerability. The musical is full of the fun of the ‘Alice’ books and will leave the audience with a very complete view of the Alice/Charles Dodgson story.

Do you think CLD will shock audiences, given their happy associations with Alice?

I do not feel it will shock audiences but will certainly open their eyes to the how these magical stories were intertwined with real-life events.

Alice The Red Queen and Me! | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
Alice The Red Queen and Me! | © Oxford Music Theatre

Being a very biographical and literary play, how did you prepare for this project?

I prepared for this project by studying the background to all the main characters and visiting the sites where the stories were written and the events took place in Dodgson’s life. Also, it’s important to have an understanding of the very morally upright Victorian times that these events took place in – the story is really quite scandalous!

Is there a specific theme that you’re hoping to explore within the musical?

Mainly how the stories of Alice were created from normal life experiences.

Given the recent release of the Alice and the Looking Glass, directed by Tim Burton and known for being dark, how does your interpretation of the novels compare?

We are not really interpreting the stories of Alice, but our story certainly has some dark elements to it. Indeed, the ‘Alice’ books in their original format have quite a dark undertone… The Red Queen, Mad Hatter, etc. are all on the edge of madness…

Lorina Liddell | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
Lorina Liddell | © Oxford Music Theatre

What attracted you to this project?

The opportunity to work on a completely new piece and have the chance to have complete freedom to explore my own interpretation of the work.

How has it been working on it with the cast/stage crew?

Very easy. The cast are all experienced professional performers with West End credits. They have been carefully cast to create the right balance. At times, one has to re-explore their views of Alice and Charles Dodgson and how this intertwines in the show, which has been great fun.

Why should everyone come and see the play?

This is a rare chance to see a beautifully written insight into to world of a literary genius. It is full of all the elements of fun that make the ‘Alice’ books so popular still today with readers young and old, but it also has a depth and a great back story which will leave the audience with a very clear view of how this mad world was inspired. Also, the sights where this story take place are literally outside the door of the venue in Oxford, which adds a magical element of realism to the musical.

'Off with his Head!' | Courtesy of Oxford Music Theatre
‘Off with his Head!’ | © Oxford Music Theatre

What’s next in store for the Oxford Music Theatre?

We want to develop the idea of new theatrical works within Oxford and to establish a reputation for innovative and creative theatre.

What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to direct a classic novel in a modern adaptation?

Do your research into the original piece thoroughly; do not be afraid to take risks.

And finally, how would you describe this play in 100 words?

A moving yet fun insight into the life of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and how his own confused and disjointed life was the inspiration for the much loved ‘Alice’ books. This musical play will appeal to the hardened Alice fans and those wishing to delve further into the mad world of Lewis Carroll. With appearances from all the main Alice characters – Michael Brand and Jane Bramwell have provided the perfect mix of a beautifully scripted story with the backdrop of music that fits so well with the crazy world that Carroll created. The cast are superb and supported by an established West End production team.

‘CLD – The Real Lewis Carroll’ is performing from Thursday 14th July until Saturday 6th August 2016.

St Columba’s United Reform Church, Alfred St, Oxford, UK