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!

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Death of the King

I’ve written before how much I love Immercity’s work. A small company specialising, as the name suggests, in immersive theatre, they’ve been responsible for amazing shows such as Crashed and The Three Rings of Cirque Tsuki. This new show, Death of the King, takes over a disused factory in south London, with a complex and original plot surrounding the death of the titular character.

The idea behind the show is that you, the audience, are journalists invited to the factory where, several years ago in 1983, a group of young people lived and one, Rusty, died. His cousin, Jack, has invited a medium to bring back the ghosts of the past and help you to try and solve the mystery of what happened all those years ago.

I’ll say straight up, if I’d known how much group work and interaction there would be, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Having said that, I was put with a family of five who were all lovely and made me feel at ease. Together we descended to the basement to observe the ghostly replay of that night in 1983, followed by the chance to question the ghosts about their part in events.

So much attention to detail has gone into this show. The acting, costumes, and storyline are all well thought through and completely absorbing for the viewer. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but there are enough clues presented by the characters – if you ask the right questions – to work it out, and I’m rather chuffed to say I did.

This is a truly immersive, interactive piece of theatre that will challenge you. I’m glad I didn’t know in advance about the extremely interactive nature of it, as I would have missed out on something special. It’s definitely worth stepping out of your comfort zone and checking it out.

The Wimbledon Time Portal By Stella Artois

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If you think the Time Portal is an attempt to promote Stella Artois and Wimbledon, you are probably right. However, it’s also lots of fun and well put together. Immersive theatre group Les Enfants Terribles – responsible for last year’s magical Alice’s Adventures Underground – have created a 40-minute adventure that takes you back to Victorian London. To 1877, to be precise, the year when the Wimbledon tournament was first held, and the Belgian beer Stella Artois was introduced to Britain.

When you first arrive at the venue in Dalston (make sure to arrive in plenty of time to drink your first complimentary glass of Stella), you hang around in the bar until your appointed time, at which point a genial tennis fan introduces himself. He takes you to his time machine and sends you back to 1877, at which point the adventure proper begins.

The performance takes the form of a quest for a tennis racket, and it’s really impressive how much it manages to pack in. The measure of any immersive theatre company is how well they manage to, well, immerse you, and considering the show was only forty minutes I was impressed by how quickly I managed to feel a part of things. I actually do put this partly down to the booze – I honestly think it helped to loosen everyone up and make them more amenable to joining in. During my short stay in 1877 I managed to meet Sherlock Holmes and Ebenezer Scrooge, watch a magic show, learn the art of pickpocketing, get arrested and watch the very first Wimbledon final.

The world Les Enfants Terribles has created is gloriously detailed, from the Victorian market stalls to the costumes of the actors. Any fan of Victoriana would love the show. At the end, you are spilled out into a basement bar where you can choose to remain and watch the tennis if you so wish – if not, you can do what I did, head home with a grin on your face as you remember the fun you’ve just had.

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.

Heartbreak Hotel

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This summer’s immersive experience at The Jetty, Heartbreak Hotel, takes the form of a promenade adventure around a series of detailed rooms as part of the ‘Achieving Creative Heartfelt Experience’ (ACHE) programme. Guided from room to room, you learn about the history of the hotel as well as the stories of many current guests.

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Visually, the piece is gorgeous, with vivid and detailed design; I particularly liked the melancholic bathroom. The modern-day stories were interesting little plays in their own right: one was about a man who had hired a prostitute, another concerned a couple grieving for their dead child. I would have liked a little more resolution to these stories, but they were certainly absorbing.

The tale of the hotel’s proprietor and his ill-fated former romance was also fascinating, and the modern-day story about a new participant on the ACHE programme was particularly funny. However, I didn’t think they blended together as well as they might have done; the finale in particular could have been more satisfying.

Overall, though, this is an unusual and appealing show, the ideal summer treat.

Who Shot Santa?

Who Shot Santa? was a Punchdrunk-style immersive theatre piece performed by members of the amateur Network Theatre Company underneath Waterloo Station. The show encompassed the entire theatre, from the auditorium itself to the bar and backstage areas, and was an ingenious and thoughtful production.

Set in an amateur theatre on the brink of closure, the idea is that the group have drafted in their most famous ex-member to play Santa in a production of Who Shot Santa?. With bruised egos, tense moments and even a love affair, the show is an intriguing one, with audience members able to hear backstage gossip and other snippets on their trips around the theatre.

The action was repeated so that it was possible to go back and take in anything you missed the first time round. I really enjoyed this ambitious production in a very different theatre.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

As a fan of Oscar Wilde, I decided to go and see The Alchemic Order’s immersive version of The Picture of Dorian Gray at a secret location in Greenwich. This version, by Samuel Orange, was an exciting one, though it had its faults.

On ringing the doorbell, my friend and I were greeted by Mrs Leaf, the housekeeper, whose entertaining banter with butler, Victor, kept us amused while the rest of the audience arrived. Once the play proper began, we were taken from one part of the house to another in order to follow the story.

The setting was very atmospheric, and I loved the uses made of the space, such as the space behind the mirror in the living room, and the framing of particular scenes in the windows of the house. On the other hand, some of the acting wasn’t great, and I thought that the ending seemed a little abrupt – I wasn’t quite sure when it had actually ended.

Still, I found this entertaining and unusual – definitely worth it if you like theatre that’s a bit different.