Harleston boy Isaac Byram takes to the stage this month, when Norwich Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre Company performs Alice Back In Wonderland. Alex Dalgleish caught up with him to find out what gets Isaac out there on the stage.
Isaac faces the challenge of playing two parts in this production – Alice’s father Mr Liddell, and the mysterious Father Time. It’s a good thing he’s got plenty of experience of the stage, having been working his way through the Theatre Royal’s Theatre Arts Course since the age of seven. “I started off taking drama classes, and just kept going,” he said. “From there, I started auditioning for musicals, and I haven’t stopped yet!”
This show, which features 200 actors, dancers and musicians aged from eight to 19, is a sequel to the much-loved story of Alice In Wonderland. As Isaac explained: “It turns out that there are problems in Wonderland and Alice is needed back again.
“She’s going to have to fight the Red Queen, who’s arrived from Chess Land – a place that’s like Wonderland, but much more strict. The show is all about how Alice has to free Wonderland from the tyranny of the Red Queen.”
Isaac has previously appeared in High School Prom Queen (the Youth Theatre Company’s 2016 summer show) and smaller-scale plays like Extremism, a drama which was performed in Stage Two’s Peter Wilson Auditorium in March.
He’s well used to the Norwich stage, but how does Alice Back In Wonderland compare? “This is your traditional Norwich Theatre Royal show, but really amped up to take a traditional tale and make it really memorable.
“Audiences can expect singing, dancing and comedy – expect the unexpected! There are surprises round every corner. It’s a fantastic show, definitely one to watch.”
Director David Lambert describes the show as being inspired by both the books and movies, so Isaac has had a lot of research to do. “I have looked into the character of Father Time and the way he’s presented in mythology: normally he’s an old man with a scythe and an hourglass and red wings.
“I don’t think that’s quite what I’m going for, so I took a look at some of the other versions. The most recent would be Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in the new film [2016’s Alice Through The Looking Glass], which is very much modernised. We’ll wait and see how this one plays out…”
The Theatre Royal seats up to 1300 paying customers, an audience accustomed to visiting productions of the country’s biggest musicals, operas and ballets. It must be pretty nerve-wracking to perform in front of that sort of crowd, especially with five performances scheduled this month.
To Isaac though, the positives outweigh the negatives: “I think it’s one of the best things in the world, performing. You meet so many different people and try so many different things. There’s nothing else quite like it; I’d recommend that everyone gives it a go.
“I think that acting has definitely boosted my confidence in myself and it’s really helped me to get through a lot, at times. I’ve got fantastic memories, and I always tend to take a part of my character with me. That’s honestly changed my outlook on life – I can take away a character’s positive attitude and let it make me happier. It’s been brilliant!”
It sounds like acting can have some really positive effects. Isaac nodded: “It’s quite therapeutic for me, actually. If you have any worries or problems, you can leave them all behind for that hour and a half.
“It might sound soppy, but you’re someone else when you perform. You can completely immerse yourself in this world, which can be whatever you want it to be. It can be new and exciting, it can be dragons flying overhead, if that’s what you want. I think really, that’s what acting is all about. There are no limits, and that’s what I love about it.”
With opening night just weeks away, it’s fair to assume that the whole cast is focused on this performance for now. But Isaac doesn’t plan to vacate the stage once this show comes to an end. “I definitely want to carry on with acting. I’m doing a diploma course in performance at City College right now; I’m hoping to go on from there to study at LAMDA [the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art]. From there onwards, I’ll wait and see what happens – it just depends on what opportunities turn up.”
But what if he could pick his dream role? “Oh, I’m a proper comic nerd, so I would love to play a DC superhero, like Nightwing or something. Maybe John Constantine, who is a DC magician from Liverpool; I’d be well up for that!”
So you never know, one day soon you might be seeing Isaac going mano a mano with the likes of Jared Leto’s Joker on the big screen. For now, though, Father Time sounds like enough of a role to be getting on with.
Alice Back In Wonderland is here from 26-29 July, and tickets are available now.