SCHOOL friends Lucy Southall and Fern Gwinnett were thrilled to be chosen to share the part of Alice in this season's Courtyard junior youth theatre production.

Each will head a team of characters who will perform alternatively from April 6-9, with matinees on all days.

Fern wasn't sure at all how the assessed workshop audition had gone for her and Lucy feared she had read too quickly. But the girls were quick to reassure each other that they were "really good".

Director Owen Calvert-Lyons admitted that it had been hugely difficult to cast the 185 parts and sat up 'til 2am working it out.

"Everyone in youth theatre is guaranteed a part," he said, "so it's a case of working out both the speaking and non-speaking roles - each equally important.

"There's a real wealth of talent here, which is in itself a safety net."

The day after the casting was announced Disney's version was conveniently televised, while Fern was bought a copy of the book by her family and Lucy's mum retrieved a 1950s version from the attic, which had belonged to an aunt.

Already the magic has taken hold for the newly-cast Alices, both in year 9 at the Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School.

"Once we've learned all the lines and it all falls into place we'll feel really proud," Fern said.

"We're on stage all of the time and it'll be a bit scary with our friends coming to watch us."

Lucy is aware that her first night nerves may remind her of when she took the lead in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe two years ago.

Both will be missing out on shopping, sleepovers with friends and, for Fern, air cadets while they spend their Saturdays between now and April in all-day rehearsals...

"We don't need to be the same," Fern said, "and can develop the part - how we think Alice would react in a situation."

Both girls are experienced on stage, with Fern taking part in Hereford's annual summer school for performing arts and village productions and Lucy having gained the pseudonym, 'Lucy Sparkle' at a Museum of Moving Image children's workshop.

"The reason I chose Alice for the Junior Youth Theatre to produce was to go with something a bit magical," Owen said.

"Anything and everything happens, and there are great characters. The way it's written is perfect for youth theatre, as there is an enormous amount of small parts.

"The story, which is about the transition from childhood to adulthood, is also relevant to where a lot of Youth Theatre members are at.

"Both Alices are full of energy and intelligence - a real Alice-like quality. They're a pleasure to work with."