Following an Olivier-award nominated run to commemorate the original Lewis Carroll novel’s 150th anniversary, Alice’s Adventures Underground has returned to the Vaults for a limited summer season. Running at 90 minutes, several performances take place over the course of an evening, weaving in and out of the intriguing venue.
And this is by no means a straightforward retelling of Alice’s fantastical tale; instead it is fully interactive, with audience members making choices that directly affect which part of the story they will be involved with during the night. Starting with the choice of whether to eat or drink, you are swiftly divided into two groups which eventually defines you as either resistance or collaborators, and then you are split once more in order to determine your role in the rest of the night’s events.
But really it all begins from the moment you enter, stepping into the Wonderland Bar where you can buy all manner of appropriately themed food and drink – from the Cheshire Cat colour-changing cocktail or Just Half a Cup of Tea, to the March Hare’s Saucy Mac or a Frabjous Falafel Burger, there really is something for everyone that helps to get you in the mood for the adventure to come later. This area also stays open until late, so you can also wind down with another tipple afterwards – and find out what happened in the rest of the story if your friends ended up having a different experience…
You enter into what looks like an abandoned home library, filled with stacks of books and personal mementoes. Alice flicks from mirror to mirror, trapped in Wonderland, many memories lost – and the White Rabbit becomes your guide, ushering you in to make your first choice.
Every aspect of the design helps to create a hugely atmospheric production: Mike Gunning’s lighting, Nina Dunn’s videos, Tomas Gisby’s sound & compositions, Jessica Blackman’s make-up, and Samuel Wyer’s set & costumes. Another fantastic aspect of the show, on top of the circus feel and interactions, is the use of puppetry. Max Humphries’ designs are bold and beguiling, allowing some of the more extraordinary creatures of Carroll’s creation to come to life.
Most of you will know the basic Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass stories, though the specific plotlines in this show are explained and developed enough for this not to be a prerequisite. Sadly you won’t see everything being played out, but a great job has been done to ensure each group meets as many of the characters as humanly possible. You are reunited with everyone in the courtroom, where you get some idea of what the others (particularly the different colour suits) have been up to – and it only makes you more eager to go round again to see the rest of it!
The only real downside is for the shorter members of the audience; you can’t always be sure where the ‘front’ will be so there are moments where you might miss things or be unable to see. Thankfully it’s not a massive issue, as there are some seated parts and you’re bound to accidentally be at the front every now & then too. You do have to keep yourself aware of moments when you need to split into your separate suits – it’s not always particularly well explained.
Afterwards, thanks to Raw PR, we returned to the Mad Hatter’s tea party to mingle with the cast and have a look at the room at our leisure. This is one of my favourite parts of the Alice story, and consequently one of my favourite parts of the show itself, so it was great to get the chance to wander round and see the intricate designs that have been used. It’s all thought out down to the tiniest detail, adding extra layers to help create the twisted magic of this Wonderland. Meghan Treadaway, who was playing Bill the Lizard that night, is really enjoying the whole experience – and loves getting the chance to play different characters throughout the run.
My verdict? An immersive experience like no other, getting curiouser and curiouser as you go along – tickets are hotter than the Queen of Hearts’ jam tarts!
Alice’s Adventures Underground runs at the Vaults until 23 September 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Adventures in Wonderland is the child-friendly version of Alice’s story from Les Enfants Terribles.