Lewis Carroll was a great theatre-goer, and the popularity of his two Alice books soon led him to consider the possibility of a stage version. To protect his copyright, as early as November 1872 he had asked his publisher, Macmillan, to engage copying clerks to write out the text in dramatic form, with speeches and speakers, and stage directions of entrances and exits; these were to be registered as dramas under the same titles as the books. He later gave permission to Mrs K. Freiligrath-Kroeker to publish two plays, Alice (1880) and Alice through the Looking-Glass (1882), although these contained excerpts only (and Alice was a mixture of the two books). He approached Sir Arthur Sullivan to see if he would write a musical score for an Alice operetta, but no progress was made with the idea. Finally, on 2 September 1886, Carroll gave permission to Henry Savile Clarke to produce a version, although insisting on working closely with him. The first performance was on 23 December 1886 at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, London, with Phoebe Carlo as Alice. This first production was very successful, and went on to an extensive tour of the Provinces. The revival in 1888 at the Globe Theatre with Isa Bowman as Alice was not a financial success, and the operetta was not performed again until after Carroll’s death. The revival in December 1898 at the Opera Comique, with Rose Hersee as Alice, proved very popular, and there were productions almost every year in either London or the Provinces, for the next thirty years.
The information presented here has been largely researched and collated by Catherine Richards. Contributions from several other Carroll scholars including Charlie Lovett, Clare Imholtz and Edward Wakeling, are acknowledged in the appropriate places.
For a detailed account of the early Henry Savile Clarke productions see Alice on Stage by Charles C Lovett (Meckler 1990).