Susannah van den Berg plays Aunt Margaret/Queen of Hearts. Theatre credits include Sister Act (UK and international tour), Diana of Dobson’s (New Vic Theatre), I Love Paris (Orange Tree Theatre), Can’t Buy Me Love, A Man of No Importance (Salisbury Playhouse), Business as Usual (Everyman Theatre), Sweeney Todd (English National Opera), The Sound of Music (Curve) and Man of La Mancha (Royal Lyceum Theatre).
We want to thank Susannah for taking the time to talk with us and wish her well with her continuation as the Queen of Hearts.
How did you get into Acting? Did you go to drama school?
I started dancing, singing and playing musical instruments as a child and then moved into appearing in local amateur plays and musicals. When I was 18, I was lucky enough to get a place at Rose Bruford drama school and I studied for 3 years on the actor-musician course.
Can you tell us about your current show Alice in Winterland?
This story is a reimagining of the novels. Set during World War One, Alice has lost her mother and her father returns from the front a damaged man. On the verge of being sent to finishing school by her strict Aunt, Alice falls down the rabbit hole and goes on a journey of self-discovery. What she learns in Wonderland gives her the strength to deal with the traumas of her reality. It’s very much a coming of age story for a young teenager. Audiences meet all their favourite characters from the novels, but in a new adventure. The story is also set of Christmas Eve so there’s plenty of opportunity for a slightly more festive slant.
Are there any challenges with this show that is different from others?
This show features five professional actors working alongside 52 members of the Rose Youth Theatre, who are split into two teams. The youth theatre has incredible responsibility during the show. They do all the scene changes, the puppetry, song, dance, characterisation and take part in a pretty epic battle sequence. The main challenge has been ensuring they’re safe and prepared to perform all of that to a professional standard. I have to say, they’re incredible. They’ve really stepped up to the challenge and I’ve loved joining their ensemble.
What attracted you to your character the Queen of Hearts?
She’s so liberating to play. In my court, I can get away with anything. If I want to throw a tantrum, I can, if I want to be ridiculously silly, I can. As an actor, that’s such a thrill because I can be big and bold with my choices. I’ve also got some incredible songs to sing written by our composer and lyricist Eamonn O’Dwyer.
Can you explain a bit about your character in regards to the show?
The Queen rules Wonderland as a dictatorship – anyone who steps out of line has their head chopped off. I’ve also decided it must always be my Birthday and as my Birthday falls on Christmas Eve, it is always Winter but never Christmas. The arrival of Alice disrupts the status quo in Wonderland and her role is to free those under me from the tyranny I’ve imposed.
Can you tell us what is your favourite part of the production?
It can be a part you are in or not. Without a doubt, it’s the final battle sequence choreographed by the brilliant Lyndall Grant. This involves some pretty epic music from Eamonn O’Dwyer, great puppetry work led by Yvonne Stone and I myself get a terrific mace battle against Alice. It’s thrilling to perform.
Has anything ever gone really wrong on stage? Have you ever forgotten a line? How did you overcome it?
Nothing particularly dramatic has happened – I have fallen over a few times in dance routines! In terms of forgetting lines, it happens to us all… but if you’re really clear on what your intention is and what story you’re telling, you can get yourself out of anything.
Obviously, you have been in many other productions, if you had to choose your favourite one what would it be and why?
I’ve just finished a big national tour playing Sister Mary Patrick in Sister Act directed by Craig Revel Horwood. I’ve had the privilege of working with Craig on several productions and this one was a real delight. Partly to do with the show, partly to do with the really fun part I was playing but mainly to do with the terrific ensemble of people I was working with.
What is unique about the production and why should people come and see it?
Ciaran McConville has written a completely brand new story, albeit with the familiar characters from the Lewis Carroll books, with a strong, young female lead. The youth theatre are astonishing in it. The show has an original score and songs, there’s puppetry, projections, an amazing battle sequence and snow! I also think the show has incredible heart. Children and adults alike will really go on an emotional journey with Alice.
If you could give some advice to people wanting to go into the theatre industry what would be the most important thing you would tell them?
Take it seriously but enjoy it and feel lucky to do it every day. It takes a huge amount of discipline to work in the theatre but the rewards are worth it.
Finally, what 3 words would you use to describe the show as a whole?
Frabjous, Glumptious, Magnumptious!
Alice in Winterland which opens at Rose Theatre Kingston on 15 December and runs over Christmas and into the new year.
Tickets can be purchased here – https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on