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BWW Review: ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND, The Vaults

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Following the sell-out run in 2015 at The Vaults deep under Waterloo Station, Les Enfants Terribles' and ebp bring their Olivier award nominated Alice's Adventures Underground back to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's beloved book. Less like a gentle retelling of the story and more like experiencing falling down the rabbit hole yourself, Alice's Adventures Underground is a more grown-up way to immerse yourself in this fantastic story.

Immersive theatre is not for everyone and you need to be willing to throw yourself into the experience and suspend your disbelief to get the full benefit of the production. The audience is shepherded into a ramshackle study, with books piled floor to ceiling and oddly ticking clocks. Close inspection reveals photographs that move, mirrors that contain messages. There is enough to distract the audience for hours.

Led to another space, we are confronted by a choice of 'Eat Me' or 'Drink Me'; you choose your own adventure as each option leads to a different journey. The story is not so much the traditional narrative of Carroll's classic tale, but anyone familiar with the book will find references and quotations used at every corner.

My journey met with an unstable Humpty Dumpty, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee as acrobatic patients in a psychiatric locked ward, a Mock Turtle who is a vagabond busker, with regular appearances from The White Rabbit, who has wonderfully animated ears.

Directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager, it's a complex and ambitious project with each audience split into four different suits, who each go on their own journey, coming together again at the end. Each performer also plays at least four characters each. If you go with a friend, make sure you pick a different path so you can compare notes at the end. This complex process means that it is almost impossible to see the same show twice. The logistics are mind-boggling.

One of the most striking things about the show is the costumes and sets, which are all extraordinarily detailed in the style of romantic decay. Designer Samuel Wyer exploits the dark maze of The Vaults to create a shadowy and slightly sinister world of magic and utter nonsense. Details such as a corridor made entirely of book pages, a talking man in the moon and pouring rain indoors are just some of the special effects that await. There is an attention to detail here that sets a very high bar and there is so much to see that there is a constant fear you have missed something.

The optical illusions are often breathtaking; corridors grow and shrink before your eyes and characters disappear without warming. The cast is excellent, subtly steering the audience around the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms, constantly chatting, joking and maintaining rapt interest.

The weak spot in the production is a lack of solid narrative. The audience is all part of the story, but the story itself lacks substance. The Mock Turtle's song is touching but overly long and the Mad Hatter's tea party is a little too chaotic to maintain concentration, despite the efforts of the performers. It is not a play or performance so much as an experience and this means the overall fun and silliness is enough to keep the audience enthralled from start to finish.

This is a stunning revival of an intricate and unique show that brings the genius of Carroll's writing vividly to life.

Alice's Adventures Underground is at The Vaults until 13 September

Photo Credit: Rah Petherbridge Photography


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