Finding Wonderland

Cranleigh School celebrate 150th anniversaries with an immersive drama production

This year Cranleigh celebrates its 150th anniversary with a series of sesquicentennial events. A key part of the school’s special year was an innovative production of Alice, an immersive reimagination of Alice in Wonderland, a story which also launched in 1865.

Drama teacher Emily Sinclair said: “The production was heavily reliant on audience participation, which is unpredictable, so once the cast had learnt their lines they had to be ready to improvise at any moment. For such a young cast this is a real challenge and something even professional actors do not feel comfortable doing.”

Theatre Manager, Mark Jenkins, said: “Students were given the chance to develop a design for a zone [a part of the set], with the brief that they should be able to describe their area in three key words e.g., “Sweeney Todd Kitchen”, or “Dysfunctional Ryanair Check-in”. They produced drawings and plans and used Pinterest to share ideas on a group mood board. 

“Such a large set required a lot of independent work and the more experienced crew not only had to learn new skills working with materials they hadn’t used before, but also to learn to instruct and supervise younger students on set.” 

The whole project drew many school departments together: Music Technology who produced the soundscape, the Design Department who made specialist props, Theatre Technology for lighting, control and communications, plus expert assistance from the on-site Works carpentry team. The actors themselves had only two and a half weeks on set and less than a week in a fully functioning Wonderland.

Several actors took the part of Wonderlanders, guides whose role it was to ensure the audience members were safely delivered to the right part of the stage at the right time. Wonderlander Ben Claxton added: “If you’re looking to sit down, relax and watch a performance for an hour and a half then an immersive theatre production like Alice is probably not for you.” 

Despite all the madness of staging such a mad show, the entire cast and crew would encourage other schools to take on the challenge and push the boundaries of their drama. Pupil Cameron S Scheijde, who played the Cook, summed it up: “Alice has been a mad, exhausting, enjoyable, frenetic show that has required every ounce of effort possible from the cast and crew. I have enjoyed every second.”    

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