Review: Alice’s Adventures Underground (The Vaults) ****

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Immersive theatre is a genre which continues to grow in popularity and possibility. Although the genre is still relatively new to traditional audiences, the success of Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema in recent years has made this once niche experience more mainstream though there is still work to be done. And what better way for London audiences both young and old to experience immersive theatre for the first time, than in a world which is both familiar and fantastical: Wonderland. Returning for a second year to the Vaults, Les Enfants Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground is inventive and an advent for the next stage of immersive theatre.

Fall down the rabbit hole and tumble into Lewis Carroll’s famous story. Here is a world you will may have read about and seen, but you’ve never imagined it like this before! Choose your own path as you explore and try to make sense of it all (but strictly no nonsense!) Talk to your fellow cards, bake some tarts and spy a glimpse into this world beyond the looking glass…

ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND. Philippa Hogg 'Alice'. ©Rah Petherbridge Photography
Philippa Hogg (Alice) ©Rah Petherbridge Photography

No expense has been spared in creating this world. Expansive, it covers several floors of the Vaults, occupying the space under Waterloo. As you creep around, spying, sneaking and skipping through the story, the trains rumbling above you add tension to the story and feel like part of the world. Each room has its own visual identity, with Samuel Wyer’s set and costumes having a distinctly circus influence. The mundane is made mad: immigration desks, nurseries, and cooking lessons take on a suitably macabre feel. The first room you enter is a wonderful introduction, though it’s not actually in Wonderland itself. Look around, explore the space and spot the Easter eggs…what secrets can you spy?

Once you step through the looking glass, do be warned: you may be split up from your friends. Will you drink or eat? Choose wisely as to what best suits you…Such a prospect may seem disorientating and even frightening for new audiences. However, the cast are on hand to guide you through this world and will engage with you as much or as little as you would like. With two choices to make, this makes for four possible outcomes or pathways, each with their own characters and missions. My one was that of a diamond and not to spoil anything, but we got to meet a particular character who was…egg-cellent company. What a…crack-ing guy he was! For fans of the show, this means you can go four times, have four different sets of actors, and four different audiences. This element of ‘choose your own adventure’ is a welcome addition to theatre, but I feel that more could be done here to make it a truly individualised experience.

ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND. Richard Holt 'Hatter' and Philippa Hogg 'March Hare'. ©Rah Petherbridge Photography
Richard Holt (Hatter) and Philippa Hogg (March Hare) ©Rah Petherbridge Photography

The show fuses both old and new methods of storytelling. Digital elements are interwoven throughout the story, with projections making for memorable moments. I am sure they could have done more with this technology, however, it is used sparingly and with good reason. This allows the story and audience to celebrate a more traditional elements of storytelling which harks back to childhood. Frogs, jabberwockies and other familiar faces are brought to life via puppetry, allowing us like Alice to ‘find a pleasure in all their simple joys’. And if you are suited to another kind of pleasure, there’s plenty of fun after the show: head to the Wonderland Bar, open until late with mad cocktails, flamingo croquet and photo-booth fun.

Working puppets, performing acrobatics and guiding us through this world, the actors pull triple duty in this production. Actually more, as each actor has their own track which rotates, playing multiple characters throughout the run. Though playing the same parts, each actor is able to bring their own take to each role. During our trip, we had some stand out performances:  Kojo Kamara makes for a perverse, playful and pun-filled Joker. The tea party scene was brilliant fun, led by Alan Pearson’s very mad Hatter, the Tweedles were terrifying, and Alexander Wolfe’s Mock Turtle provides a surprisingly sad, sweet moment with an original song.

ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND. Alexander Wolfe 'The Mock Turtle'. ©Rah Petherbridge Photography
Alexander Wolfe (The Mock Turtle) ©Rah Petherbridge Photography

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

After a somewhat abrupt end to the show, you are all reunited. As each person finds their friend, there’s an excitement: ‘I met Humpty’, ‘Well I got a badge!’ Alice’s Adventures Underground is a truly mad time: immerse yourself and join the fun. You may not find out why a raven is like a writing desk, but you will find out why immersive is the future of theatre.

Alice’s Adventures Underground plays at the Vaults until 23 September 2017. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Alice Underground site.

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