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Lara Parmiani and Kavyan - Ali In Wonder(Eng)land Interview

Fun, ironic, and poetic, Ali in Wonder(Eng)land is devised by participants in LegalAliens’ free weekly classes for migrants and refugees. The show uses the familiar Lewis Carroll frame but with an absurdist, contemporary twist, mixing characters inspired by Alice in Wonderland with original material and extracts from the notorious Life in the UK test.

Performers take turns in playing Ali through a series of encounters with grotesque civil servants, mellifluous do-gooders, bigots with magic sunglasses that make foreigners disappear, two Home Secretaries and even… a Quing! The narration is from time to time interrupted by monologues sharing personal experiences of migration, some funny, some melancholic, some brutal.

Ahead of the show running on Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th July I sat down with Lara Parmiani and Kavyan Yp (19from Kurdistan who’s been in London for two years and has been regularly attending LegalAliens theatre classes for 18 months.

Can you tell me a little more about the piece?
LP: it’s a devised performance weaving together materials - improvs, sketches, physical theatre exercises - generated by participants over the course of the last 18 months. 
What inspired you to create the piece?
LP: We want our sessions to be participant-led. Professional artists (all migrants themselves) share skills and knowledge but we don’t impose preconceived frames or themes. We didn’t start with the idea of talking about migration or using Alice in Wonderland. It happened organically. The only thing we agreed on at the start was that we wanted to make a full show and it had to be fun, so no staging of personal trauma, and no victimhood. One day a participant mentioned Alice in Wonderland so I re-read it and discovered how dark it is and what a perfect metaphor it provided for our experiences as migrants. So we experimented with fitting work we had already created into this frame. Our Ali - like Carroll’s Alice - is clever, adventurous and a bit naughty. Presented with a grotesque and absurdly hostile environment they decide to speak up and challenge it. 
How have you approached rehearsals and crafting together the show with the company? 
LP: as I said the show wasn’t born from a pre-existing idea, so we didn’t have a traditional rehearsal process. Also this is a community class so participants only meet once a week, sometimes they can’t make the sessions because life gets in the way, so for us as facilitators and directors the challenge is to solidify work and block scenes even when we don’t have all the actors in the room. A lot of adaptability is required. Also we rely on ensemble work. There are no lead actors, Ali is played in turns by several people so if somebody isn’t there we skip that particular scene and work on another one. As Director and the person in charge of the project the most important thing is to make sure everyone feels like they’re given something meaningful to do in the show. Obviously participants have different levels of English, different physical ability and different mental space to focus on the project. We made sure that even those who struggle with English have a role, maybe they play a bigger part in the physical scenes for instance, and those who’ve been coming for a long time - some participants have been with us for almost four years - feel challenged and that they’re constantly learning 
How rewarding have you found it giving a voice to the company?
YP: I love being one of the Alis in the show and giving my voice to the company. The live moments we share with each other and the audience are special. 

What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?

YP: I personally as an actor want the audiences to have a better understanding of what refugees and asylum seekers feel when arriving in the U.K., to see the experience of a person who isn’t familiar with rules and culture but is forced to navigate them nonetheless. But the best part is we are doing it in a funny way to make people laugh! 

What performances or shows have inspired you?
LP: I can’t mention a show - too many - but my theatre practice is inspired by four people: Peter Brook for his “necessary theatre”; Augusto Boal for his idea of “theatre of the oppressed”; Jerzy Grotwosky for his physical approach to performance; and Anne Bogart for viewpoints. Although I love words, I think theatre should always start from the body.

What does theatre mean to you?
YP: Theatre to me means finding a moment to get rid of my daily problems. When I act on a stage, I can feel completely free and happy. I particularly enjoy playing a character other than myself. And have fun. It’s also a brilliant opportunity to be heard

Can you describe the show in 3 words?
YP: migration-focused; meaningful; painful 
LP: theatrical; moving; quite bonkers! 

Ali in Wonder(Eng)land runs at the LegalAliens Theatre on Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th July. Tickets are available from

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