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.