Les Enfant Terribles’ production of Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale of rebellion, nonsense, and utter madness is brought to startling life in this immersive staging.
After having sipped a glass of a ‘Who Stole All the Tarts’ cocktail courtesy of Smith & Sinclair (you can read my bar review here), and made my way outside into the cold with my fellow Underground explorers, I find myself in a dimly-lit Victorian room, full of curiosities and detail to boot. There’s stacks of books, a typewriter, piano, and several looking glasses spaced around the room. For someone like me, who loves curation within performance, this is a dream to behold. There is around fifty of us and we are left to our own devices, exploring the room and its many objects.
Suddenly, things begin to move, an Alice-figure appears in the mirror, and out of nowhere a doorway appears. We begin our journey to Wonderland, and from here on in, you will feel all sorts of disorientation, wonderment, and surprise as you make your way through the corridors and rooms of the Vaults in Waterloo.
It’s the exquisite attention to detail which is what makes Alice Underground such an extraordinary piece. Designer Samuel Wyer has ensured that each room created has its own visual spectacle and atmosphere around it which I just can’t stop looking at. We make our way through a furry corridor to the Cheshire Cat’s tree one moment, and the next we’re in a cold kitchen store cupboard filled with what seems like hundred of pots of jam. The costuming also fits with the dark, quirky atmosphere at the piece: you know exactly who each character is despite them not looking like Teniel’s original illustrations, which is refreshing. There’s no orange wig for this Hatter, or large blue dress for Alice.
Immersive theatre can be tricky, especially with a group of adults who perhaps aren’t used to this form, but this show does it well. There is so much to explore and each room is completely different that you never get bored, and you wait with bated breath as you walk into each room, wondering which favourite childhood character you’ll see brought to life next. Will they be performing Trapeze acts as the Tweedle Twins do? Or maybe some excellent puppetry to create the animal characters. There’s also a touch of magical illusion thrown into the mix, though I shan’t say where for fear of spoiling the surprises.
My only worry when entering the show was how MANY of us there were – there must have been around fifty of us, and I was worried that this would dampen my experience and make it hard for me to feel involved as each room got smaller and smaller. However, the production splits you into groups; firstly based on whether you decide to ‘eat’ and follow the rabbit, or ‘drink’ and go in the opposite direction. Myself and my friend Conor both decided to drink – we thought we’d be safe and be able to stick together: we were wrong.
From here on we were given playing cards and assigned a suit: I was a Spade and he a Club, so we were separated for a time before reuniting, asking each other what we’d seen and had to do. I assumed we were just split up for logistical purposes, but it turned out that each of the four groups had a very different story told to them and this was revealed in the final scene taking place in the Queen of Hearts’ court room. This ensures that every audience member has a different experience, so the possibilities are endless – it’s definitely one of the reasons I want to come back – I want to see the characters I couldn’t and explore more of Wonderland.
This production takes everything about Wonderland and turns it on it’s head. Instead of following Alice’s story exactly, it builds it’s own exciting narrative which leaves you curious, entertained, and definitely wanting more.
Alice’s Adventures Underground runs at the Vaults in Waterloo until September. I was kindly invited to this press event by Raw PR but all opinions are my own.