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BWW Review: ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDER GROUND, Royal Opera House BWW Review: ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDER GROUND, Royal Opera HouseLewis Carroll's gaze was a little uneasy even in his time (and wouldn't last long today), but he saw the absurdity of authority, the limits of rules and the irrefutable fact that the boy who shouted about the Emperor's new clothes was the only wise man in the crowd. In the week in which the world's leading democracy holds a trial in which the jurors refuse to admit witnesses the better to reach a decision made months ago, Carroll's looking-glass world seems more real than ever.

Across 55 frantic minutes, Antony McDonald takes us down the rabbit hole and through the mirror, as Alice rolls with the punches and ultimately triumphs after a series of threatening encounters, games and trippy trips. It's all so over the top that some people will harrumph, but then you think of the news and, well, ...

The visuals (McDonald also takes the designer credit) are astonishing, the ensemble cast going through the familiar characters: we get queens and knaves, hares and rabbits, babies and soldiers. There's a pantomimeish hyperreality to this dream / nightmare realm, but it never quite reaches parody, though it comes perilously close. You can see a little Rackham, a little Miyazaki, of course a little Tenniel, but wherever the eye goes, there's a delight in store.

And there's the music. Because with passages of silence, dance and spoken word, one sometimes forgets that we're watching an opera - but never quite.

The operatic is always in the aesthetic, not least as a result of Claudia Boyle's tour-de-force opening scene, falling, falling, falling while Alice's voice climbs, climbs, climbs to those ridiculous high Cs. Composer, Gerald Barry, isn't afraid of demanding plenty from his singers and he gets plenty back.

Barry, also the librettist, tells much of his story through the music, conductor, Thomas Adès, working strings and brass to conjure the crazy, counterintuitive challenges Alice must meet. If you can't whistle the tunes, you can wallow in the dissonance, in the changes of tempo, in the musical joy as Alice, getting by with a little help from her friends, pulls through.

I've a feeling an hour in this world is just enough - for some, I suspect five minutes may be too long - but this bold, accessible and entertaining production will delight anyone who heeds the call to follow the White Rabbit.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground is at the Royal Opera House until 9 February.

Photo Clive Barda

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From This Author Gary Naylor