Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 19 April 2015

Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults ⋄ 9th April – 31st August 2015

Jam tarts galore.

Poppy Corbett
Credit: Jane Hobson

Credit: Jane Hobson

For the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, theatre company Les Enfants Terribles have pulled out all the stops for a hallucinatory promenade version of Alice in the twisting tunnels of The Vaults under Waterloo.

My last promenade show left me raging at the expense of the tickets and dismal experience. In good Alice tradition, I took a young girl with me to see if her first promenade theatre experience would brighten my disappointed outlook. (The show is for 11 plus and there is an earlier show running in the day for young children.) Once I’d got over how horribly underdressed I felt at what was clearly London’s most hipster event, I was pleasantly surprised. Although I felt the show could have been riskier and less controlled, the experience was overall one of fun and adventure.

From the moment you arrive the evening bristles with excitement and the Steampunk stamp of Les Enfants Terribles is found in every nook and cranny. You can tell this has been created by a passionate team who say ‘yes’ to every HAREbrained idea. Just thinking of what a logistical nightmare cueing the show must be makes me feel sick, but there’s no hint that this is anything other than an ordinary day in Wonderland.

It’ll spoil the show if you know too much, so here are some curious conversations, silly statistics and Alice-shaped advice to ensure you have Frabjous Fun if you see the production:

Wonderland statistics, from Producer Emma Brünjes:

  • 33 individually designed sets
  • 227 members of the creative, cast and production company
  • 6,077 Jam Jars for use in the Wonderland Bar
  • 66,508 Jam Tarts
  • 92,400 Playing Cards

A: What did you think of the show?

B: I think it was amazing, it was like, really interactive! It was really entertaining.

My Wonderland statistics:

  • 4 sightings of Alice trapped in a mirror
  • 3 secret passcodes learnt
  • 2 flavours of garnish draped around my neck
  • 1 cup of gin and cucumber
  • ½ a jam tart

A: What were your favourite bits of the show?

B: Um. Definitely like, breaking the fourth wall bits. Like the actors talking to like audience and stuff. You know when the Cheshire Cat was all like up in my face, and I was like wooooaah! Oh my god, um. It was like ‘oh, I’m part of this, I’m in it, I’m like, it’s not just like cut off, it’s like proper.’

Overheard in Wonderland:

  • ‘So, there’s been a mains power outage… which is exactly not what the producer wants to be saying on a Press Night…’
  • ‘Well, THAT’S not going to give me nightmares or anything….!’
  • ‘This is way better than Secret Cinema, JUST SAYING!’
  • ‘Calloooooh, Callaaaaaay!’

A: What did you think of the set design?

B: Oh, amazing! It was like really, it was sort of like, oh it was so, it was really like, I can’t find the word…. It was just really Alice in Wonderlandy. It was really like, all clocks, and then obscure and strange and surreal.

Advice for travellers to wonderland:

  • DON’T BE LATE. It’s a very important date. (Don’t miss your time slot.)
  • HAVE A WEE BEFOREHAND. There’s no escaping Wonderland once you’ve tumbled down and down and down….
  • If you’re in a group, take different ‘eat me’, ‘drink me’ choices.
  • Learn the secret gestures. Don’t let your side down.

A: Any advice to Wonderland travellers?

B: Don’t be like, do take like, don’t be like scared to participate, actually get with it. It would be a lot worse if you didn’t go along with it.

What you should pack for your adventure:

  • You can’t take big bags in, so leave them in the cloakroom.
  • It’s pretty hot in Wonderland, so leave coats and jackets behind too.
  • Heels and ridiculous footwear is probably a no-no.
  • Your wits about you.
  • Revolutionary spirit.

A: I wanted more interaction, but I guess it’s hard to manage. Do you think there was enough?

B: If it is too much it’s a bit like ‘oh my god’, but yeah. But it was definitely better than some things, some things are like ‘yeah it’s really interactive’ but then you can’t do anything.

Those with an allegiance to the Queen would say:

  • The way that the audience are separated and led around the space was inventive and perfectly fitted the Wonderland World.
  • A real highlight of the show is that care was taken to ensure both the narrative and design were given enough attention. Often in this type of theatre the aesthetic is privileged over the story. However, it was clear the creatives were at pains to ensure both story and design work holistically.
  • The design was detailed, daring and dreamy. Each room was carefully created and so produced a new sense of wonder.
  • This show was superbly secretly stage-managed. Where were the stage crew hiding? How on EARTH did they pull it off?
  • The ending tied everyone’s experiences together in a clever way.

A: Are you going to have bad dreams?!

B: No. Not really.

A: Not even about Tweedledum and Tweedledee?

B: Oh god. Oh man. Actually, probably.

Those with a revolutionary spirit would say:

  • Everyone knows the story of Alice. Whilst this version does put us at the heart of the adventure, not quite enough was done to make it different. With the focus on rules, revolution and the imagination it has much to say about our contemporary moment. There was a chance to make this version really relevant and that was missed.
  • Without giving too much away, I thought that more could have been done to bond the individuals to the rest of their adventuring party. If they feel more united as a team, the ending could be more powerfully realised. The revolutionary spirit needed to be roused in a more energetic way.
  • Some of the set pieces lacked momentum. I lost interest during the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Right at the moment when dramatic excitement should have been its peak, the story sagged.
  • The focus was shifted away from the story of Alice, but not entirely. This didn’t quite work. Could the audience have been there to find Alice? Make us care about her, or why include her at all?
  • Don’t give gin to children!

A: Do you think the show could have been any better?

B: I think there was one too many people, like there was too much, also, yeah it was a bit too much.

A: What else?

B: No, that was it! It was really good.

The whole evening is magical – it’s an oneiric, spectacular fantasy that stays with you long after you emerge blinking into the dark Waterloo air. A brilliant night out and bound to become a cult hit.

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Alice’s Adventures Underground Show Info


Produced by Les Enfants Terribles

Directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager

Written by Antony Spargo and Oliver Lansley

Cast includes Danielle Bird, Nichole Bird, Grace Carter, Richard Holt, Lauryn Redding, Mark Stevenson, Abby Wain, Dan Wheeler.

Link http://www.the-vaults.org/#!alices-adventures-underground/c1jhy

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