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Friday, 5 June 2015

Alice's Adventures Underground | Review

Jane Hobson Image Credit

Site Specific Theatre Company Les Enfants Terribles have (literally) taken over the vaults under Waterloo station in London, delving into the weird and wonderful world of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. For the 150th anniversary of this well-loved children's classic we are given the chance to fall down the rabbit hole, travel along with the White Rabbit, make the most important decision to Eat Me? or Drink Me? and get shuffled and sorted into a playing card suite. The 60-minute show is based on the story's of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The structure of this immersive theatre experience takes you on 1 of 4 different routes depending on the playing card suite you are allocated; a good ploy to get more tickets sold! This was somewhat limiting and I felt a little short-changed at the final scene having missed out on main characters and other pivotal storylines in my particular walk-through. Unlike other site specific theatre (ie Punchdrunk) here you are herded along by the cast, so at times I felt rushed and restricted on how I could interact with the characters. There was however a good differentiation between each playing card suite which was a nice touch and with your Card 'Guides' it was easy to follow your particular story-line. The overall theme and concept was well thought-through; a different take on the story showing the emphasis on the playing-cards with a clever twist at the end! 

To keep the mystery and surprise of the experience I will not let you in on my suite or describe the exact journey I took through Wonderland. This will however limit the amount I can review. Due to the concept of your route you don't get to see all of the 33 themed rooms- so bear this in mind when reading any reviews on this production!

The costumes drew on themes of pantomime (Frog Footman, Queen of Hearts, Cook/Duchess) and the 19th Century time period with a Steampunk-esque stamp (Mad Hatter and gang). There was also great use of puppetry and prop costume. A headpiece with legs for Humpty was very effective from sitting on his wall to his collapse although his puppeteer's hands were visible at times. The Cheshire Cat, a hand-held lit puppet made out of car-headlamps (again very steampunk!) was unfortunately lost to us as he too quickly glided past us in a flash of grinning teeth- I hope he has a bigger part on other routes!  A mention must be made of the White Rabbit design whose ears inquisitively moved up and down, his head-piece made him look very affectionate which was important as he entices the audience to take the journey. The masks and headdresses were well made and allowed the actors to speak clearly. The voluminous costume of the Frog Footman was great however slightly marred by his human hands - perhaps some green gloves wouldn't go a miss? The Mad Hatter's crew looked exceptional in their worn down 'elegantly scruffy' threads. The Cards, each with their prominent suite markings in a morph-like outfit made them look 'all-card' as opposed to a human wearing a placard which was well-conceived. All costumes were highly detailed and complimented the extravagant set.

Designer, Samuel Wyer's set is extraordinary detailed- masterpieces in their own right! Each room had a theme and was very well executed, disorientating the audience with tilting floors, tiny doors, a wall of mirrors and so much more to excite and unsettle however the corridors the audience are herded through did lack lustre and imagination. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party was a highlight! The setting brilliantly depicted the well-worn, on-going 'un-birthday' tea party this band of characters have ad nausam; the mildew smells (and sights), the miss-match props and general grime of the set enhanced the eccentricity of the Mad Hatter, his sultry little black dressed March Hare and the mustachioed sleepy door mouse.

Some scenes worked less well than others for example the Mock Turtle as a woeful folk singer. The character had been re-invented, and did not come across well to the audience especially if your not overly-familiar with the books. However, the actors, despite having to continuously perform (each audience group enter every 15 mins) kept up the high levels of energy needed for this production: particularly Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum's aerial action, the manic kitchen scene with the Duchess, Cook and Pig 'Baby' and the Mad Hatter's gang who were on-point with each of their characters and the use of audience participation. The infamous authoritative Queen of Hearts gave an erotic, feisty, sexualised performance which was unsettling. The Cards appropriately ad-libbed with the audience and it was easy to warm towards the White Rabbit especially with his line 'Have I met you before?' as he pinpointed an Alice look-alike in the audience. Alice fell a little flat, her storyline took a side step and the boundaries of her journey and purpose to the production were blurred and slightly confusing. Was she needed at all?

These immersive theatre productions are to be met with an open mind. They break through the 'fourth wall' allowing the audience to become part of the action. You may be a standing spectator or suddenly have a role to play.

You therefore need to:
  •  wear comfy footwear, 
  • have an empty bladder (as there is no interval or toilets in Wonderland- duh!)
  • be pro-active with a 'Gung ho'! attitude- play along and react to the characters, lose your inhibitions, do what your told and be prepared to get split from your group/partner.               (You end up together in the final scene)
  •  leave coats/cardigans/ large bags at the cloakroom (£1 per item) It's boiling in Wonderland!
  • switch off your mobile (it may interfere with the sound system) and don't take pictures unless your in the bars (of which there are two: 1 before you start your adventure and 1 at the end)
  • get there at least 15 minutes before your official time slot (or earlier). There's a bar/toilets/cloakroom/shop to while away the time!
New to this form of theatre? Check out this article!

Theatre Company:  Les Enfants Terribles

Tickets and Information: Alice's Adventures in the Underground  for ages 12+
(there is another show 'Adventures in Wonderland' aimed at 5-7 years olds)

Prices: £35-£47.50 (Well worth the price!)

@ The Vaults, Leake St, London: Until Sunday August 30 2015


Pictures of the entrance and bar I took on 31st May 2015.

To mark Lewis Caroll's 25th Anniversary other topical things on.