Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is widely considered a remarkable piece of British literature; in modern times it has constantly been a mainstay of the pop culture zeitgeist. The book has been reinterpreted for various film adaptations, most notably: Walt Disney’s famous 1951 animated feature film, Jan Svankmajer’s surrealist 1988 film and the most recent but critically-maligned 2010 film adaptation by Tim Burton. The current revival of The Vaults’ immersive Alice’s Adventures Underground which was a sell-out success in 2015, gives audiences a chance to explore the psychedelic and nonsensical world of Carroll. True to the spirit of the book, you are given a choice at the start: Drink Me or Eat Me, choosing either means one experience will end up remarkably different than the other. For the most part, it is dependent on the card number and symbol you are given. You could end up taking part in an espionage plot to steal the Queen of Hearts’ tarts, hear a story from the wise old caterpillar, be a witness to the nonsensical ramblings of The Mad Hatter and even hear the musical lament of The Mock Turtle. The possibilities are endless in this production.
I have become very fond of immersive theatre having seen The Guild of Misrule’s The Great Gatsby, in which the concept of audiences being part of the story and contributing to the action adds a new layer to the theatrical experience. This new aesthetic allows people to be part of the production and even gain empathy with the psychology and individual dilemmas of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters. It can come as somewhat of a surprise to some of Carroll’s literary devotees that Alice is more of a minor character in this production making it all the more easy for the Audience to essentially to fill in the post. This thankfully plays into the climatic trial scene, as a plot twist regarding the eponymous Alice is unraveled. Samuel Wyer’s production design which traverses The Vaults’ underground tunnels, is both intricate and enrapturing which balances well with the self-assured direction of both Oliver Lansley and James Seager. The cast of ensemble actors go toe to toe on both guiding and creating mischief amongst the audience, and the use of puppetry and improvisation is spot on.
It was deservedly nominated for an Olivier award in 2016 for Best Family Entertainment, which is evidential on the strength of the production itself. For the much younger theatre goers, there is a softer sister show titled “Adventures in Wonderland” that exists alongside this production for ages 5-10. Which has a much tamer approach for those who could potentially be unsettled by aspects of the main show. Running until possibly the last and final time in London on 23rd September, Alice’s Adventure’s Underground is an important date that you don’t want to miss. Rarely will there ever be an immersive show (apart from Gatsby) that can truly rival the current wave of West End shows.
Alice’s Adventures Underground runs at The Vaults until 23 September
Adventures in Wonderland runs at The Vaults until 3 September