Sunday, 25 June 2017

INTERVIEW: Richard Holt, starring in Alice’s Adventures Underground at The Vaults

Tell us a bit about Alice’s Adventures Underground and what separates it from any other show. 
It’s completely different to anything else. From the audience’s point of view you are split into groups and whisked around a bizarre series of vignettes that knit together into a story of revolution, before recombining for the final scene. And from the actors point of view we rotate through five different parts, doing one part each night and repeating each scene 12 times per night!

What’s it like performing in such a different venue?
The Vaults are well suited to the story as you actually are underground. It comes with its difficulties though, like its strange layout, lack of facilities and dampness, but we’ve managed to overcome most of the challenges.

And how are you interpreting and finding playing the Mad Hatter and your various other roles in Alice’s Adventures Underground?
The story is so full of bizarre characters that we’ve got quite a bit of freedom to come up with bold characterisations. It’s always fun to approach roles where you know nothing is off the table at the start. As for the Hatter – Initially I looked into mercury poisoning and inspirations for Carroll’s character, but in our world the Hatter has been stuck down there on loop for 150 years so there’s freedom to extrapolate. The tea party is the domain of the Hatter and Hare. We are in control and that is really enjoyable. I think most audience members are a little scared of us, and rightly so, we can pick on whomever we like.

You’re returning to the production after being a part of it in 2015, what made you want to return?
The first time we did it, we were encountering new problems and spotting new opportunities all the way along. It became obvious that if we had another crack at it we could improve a lot of aspects of the show so I think I came back because I was confident we could make it better.

What’s different about doing it this time?
There are a lot of changes – the court is completely different, the layout has changed, the story has altered for each suit. But I think the biggest difference is that the cast are playing the cardguards this time around. The cardguards are sort of like “guides” who take groups of audience around the show. Last time they were played by supernumeraries but this time the cast rotates into those roles too. That has given us the ability to knit the story together a little more.

What’s been your favourite audience reaction to the show?
As we are up so close we see so much reaction it’s hard to pick out just one. I love it when an audience member wants to join in with the scene and understands the story well enough to throw things at you that fit with the scene, then we can play with that. One reaction stands out was when an older chap got a little weepy in the bar afterwards, saying that the show had taken him back to his childhood and how grateful he was.

Has anything ever gone not as planned?
A thousand times yes. There are so many moving parts in this format that it is inevitable, but we have to role with the punches. The biggest muck up was on our press night in 2015 when a momentary power cut shut down our operating system and all of the sound and light cues went on pause for about 20 mins. We had to improvise… in a corridor… with reviewers in… for 20 minutes.

Why should people come and see the show?
You won’t have seen anything like it. Immersive theatre is still an emerging
format and with each production company that has a crack at it, new things are discovered. Come and see what all the fuss is about.

You have an extensive list of credits on your CV, what has been the most memorable and most loved job you have done so far? 
Hmmm – that’s always a tough one. I think Swallows and Amazons will always be special to me, because it was the first time I got to work at the National Theatre, so walking to rehearsals there was a treat. But then I loved Bloody Poetry, which was at a small fringe theatre that seats about 30 people, but was such an excellent show to be a part of!

What have you got planned for after Alice’s Adventures Underground? 
I’m going to Seattle with a family show called Mr Poppers Penguins. I saw it when it was in the West End and thought it was great. The music is brilliant and the story it pitched perfectly to engage all ages. I auditioned for the recast a couple of months ago and now I get to spend Christmas in Seattle! My fiancé is even flying out to join me so I’m really looking forward to it.
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