Alice’s Adventures Underground 2017

Two years after I first ventured down the rabbit hole at Alice’s Adventures Underground, I returned with some friends to make the trip again. The acclaimed show has returned for 2017, and I knew I wanted to participate again.

Everything I originally said about the production still stands: the storyline, the attention to detail, the costumes and the performances are all excellent. This time I chose the “Eat Me” route and had an experience that was very different from my first. I finally met Humpty Dumpty and the Mock Turtle, as well as the Frog Footman. Just like the first time, I had lots of fun.

My friends and I ended the evening with a drink in the bar and a quick game of flamingo croquet. If you haven’t experienced this wonderful show, please do while you still have the chance!

Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults beneath Waterloo Station once again play host to theatre: this time, it’s an immersive, site-specific production based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Some might call Alice’s Adventures Underground more promenade theatre than immersive, but I found that the character interaction and the sense of participation made it one of the most immersive experiences I’ve personally had.

Put together by Les Enfants Terribles, the production has been incredibly well thought-out. You arrive at the entrance to wait in a holding area at the bar, hand stamped with a little clock, and are encouraged to check your bag into a cloakroom. I didn’t, but with hindsight I probably should have, as you do need to squeeze into some narrow spaces, and it’s easier to do this unencumbered. Once your ticket time is called, you queue up and are led outside and around the corner into a beautiful Victorian-style study, strewn with books and photographs, echoing Lewis Carroll’s own interests. This room is a masterpiece in itself, and I wish I’d had more time just to look over the details, including a curved bookshelf that defied all logic, and a two-way mirror.

Entrance down a book-lined passageway and a trip “down the rabbit hole” follow, until you meet the White Rabbit himself and are invited to “Eat Me” or “Drink Me”. From here you are separated from the rest of your group, as there are two different routes around Wonderland (becoming four later on), until you unite for the final scene and come to understand why this is the case. I don’t want to give too much away about the rest of the production, but I loved it – I was able to meet some memorable characters from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, including the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Knave of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Duchess. Not forgetting the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which took place in one eerie and atmospheric vault and featured the Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse. The two books were blended together very well, I thought, and the addition of the new storyline worked well within the existing framework.

Alice herself is absent from the journey you take, but glimpses of her are present throughout, eerie and affecting. I didn’t think the production suffered by her absence; indeed, it fit so well into the story that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. The final scene, which brought everything together, was affecting and very well done. The costumes and detailed sets were stunning, the logistics of the whole thing astounded me, and I loved the puppetry.

From reading other reviews of the piece, it’s become apparent that not every journey around Wonderland sees everything – I didn’t meet the Mock Turtle or Humpty Dumpty, for example. I took the “Drink Me” route this time; If I get the chance I would love to visit again before Wonderland closes at the end of August and take the “Eat Me” route, which I think would deliver an entirely different experience. Though it’s only halfway through the year, I’m sure that Alice’s Adventures Underground will be one of my theatrical highlights of 2015.

‘But a Dream’ – when Alice read Chekhov

Raising money for the SHINE Trust, this free performance by Sovereign Arts took place outdoors at the Garden Museum in Lambeth. ‘But a Dream’ – when Alice read Chekhov was inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year – and the plays of Chekhov. I am a huge fan of both Alice and Chekhov, so obviously had to attend this performance.

The short piece follows Alice as she falls asleep reading her new birthday present – the works of Chekhov – and wakes to meet the writer himself as well as a whole host of characters taken from both the Alice books and Chekhov’s writings. I was interested to see just how many of Chekhov’s characters fit in with the odd assortment of individuals Alice meets in Wonderland, particularly the White Rabbit who doubled as Andrei from Three Sisters. The sisters themselves, meanwhile, appeared naturally following on from the Dormouse’s tale of three sisters who lived in a treacle well.

This sweet little show – which also came with free tea and cake prior to the performance – was a lovely experience.

 

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

ZooNation are known for their superb hip-hop dance theatre, so I was surprised, though pleased, to find that they were putting on a show at the Royal Opera House. In the Linbury Studio – the foyer of which is decorated with all manner of Wonderland-themed paraphernalia, including a mirror and various hats to try on – The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party takes Lewis Carroll’s story and creates a new piece of traverse street-dance theatre, complementing Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland ballet in the main house.

There is little plot to speak of: the idea is that a young psychotherapist working at Ladrington Brook, an “Institution for Extremely Normal Behaviour”, is assigned to treat various characters claiming to be from a place called “Wonderland”. In the first act, he attempts to do this, with not a lot of success; in the second, we get to see the tea party itself, when the psychotherapist joins in all the fun. However, plot is clearly secondary to the brilliant characters and fab dancing, particularly from the psychotherapist himself (Tommy Franzen) as he sheds all inhibitions, and the White Rabbit (Corey Culverwell). All of the characters have their own style: Duwane Taylor is smooth and stylish as the Cheshire Cat, Lizzie Gough is curious and exploratory as Alice, and Shaun Smith a quick, zooming March Hare. A joyous, colourful experience for everyone.

Alice on the Underground

Alice on the Underground, an updated version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was performed in the studio theatre at Chickenshed, a revival of a previous acclaimed production. As a huge fan of anything to do with Lewis Carroll’s classic, I bought a ticket.

With words by Chris Bond and Paula Rees and music by Jo Collins and Dave Carey, the show follows teenage Alice as she runs away from home after a family fight and ends up getting lost on the Underground. As Alice, Emma Cambridge carries the show and she is a charming performer with a sweet voice. Throughout her journey we encounter a number of fascinating characters inspired by those from Lewis Carroll’s original novels. My favourite was the White Rabbit, played with a trippy frenzy by Gavin May. I also liked the Duchess (Belinda McGuirk, who also played Alice’s sister Sammy) and the Jack of Hearts (Rachel Yates, who doubled as Carol Lewis, Alice’s mum).

Altogether, a dark, trippy production with several catchy songs and a compelling story.

Peter and Alice

With fond childhood memories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, I was intrigued at the prospect of a play about the meeting of Alice Liddell and Peter Lewellyn Davies, the real-life inspirations for the famous title characters of these seminal children’s novels. The meeting really happened – in 1932, when Alice was 80 and Peter 35 – but the content is imagined.

The three principal individuals involved also worked on the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. Playwright John Logan wrote the screenplay, Dame Judi Dench (Alice) played M, and Ben Wishaw (Peter) was introduced as Q. Perhaps this is unsurprising: Peter Pan, Alice and 007 are all British institutions.

The play begins in a gloomy and dusty London bookshop, where Peter and Alice meet and discover each other’s identity: “we are practically our own children’s book department”, remarks Alice. Slowly, the pair open up and share their experiences of childhood, each marked by profound happiness, sadness and a complicated relationship with an intense and difficult writer. As if to reflect their increasingly vivid recollections, the stage itself opens up, revealing in Christopher Oram’s beautiful design a Victorian-style proscenium stage decorated with pictures of Captain Hook and the Mad Hatter and backed, alternately, by scenes of the English countryside and the mermaid’s lagoon in Neverland.

Wordy and complex, the play could have been dull if not for the excellent performances from the two leads. Judi Dench plays Alice as a sharp elderly woman with a grim determination to survive whose expressions and movements soften as she recalls her childhood excursions with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Ben Wishaw is the disillusioned Peter, recalling the death of both of his parents from cancer and his resentment at the favouritism James Barrie showed towards his younger brother Michael.

With a supporting cast of actors who portray the youthful book characters and the novelists, the play is about memory and imagination and the unavoidable sadness of growing old. Neither of the book characters comes across as particularly likeable, and the scene in which they taunt their elder real-life counterparts is rather disturbing. The play asks whether taking refuge in the fantastical is a good idea, and seems to conclude that it is: Alice loses herself in her childhood memories and dies peacefully in her bed, an old woman, while Peter concludes otherwise and ends up throwing himself in front of an Underground train at Sloane Square.

This is the second play in the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre, but the first I have seen. I look forward to watching the others.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was originally performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in 2011, and sadly I didn’t get to see it. Happily, it came back to the ROH this spring, and I went to see it with a few friends.

Based on Lewis Carroll’s tale, the ballet follows Alice as she chases the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, where she becomes embroiled in a number of adventures. The world has been created wonderfully, with beautiful sets and costumes that don’t shy away from the darker aspects of the tale. I particularly liked the Duchess’s house, with its disturbing abbatoir-like kitchen that reminded me of Sweeney Todd. The Mad Hatter’s tea party, with its theatre-slash-table design, was another highlight, and the world of the Queen of Hearts, with props made out of playing cards, was very clever.

Alice herself, danced by Yuhui Choe, was energetic and youthful, and her romance with the Knave of Hearts was a nice touch. The Queen of Hearts was a fun character, but her dancing reminded me of the antics of the plump, clumsy Queen from the Disney version of Alice, which didn’t really work as the dancer was naturally so slim and graceful.

My favourite character was the Cheshire Cat, a selection of body parts which moved around and rearranged themselves frequently, topped by an eerily-grinning face. I would have liked to see more of the cat. Overall, though I admired the inventiveness and colour of the production, I wished that there had been more actual dancing.