Alice’s Adventures Underground at the VaultsCultureTheatre
Few tales in history have piqued the imagination of readers in the same way and to the same extent that Alice in Wonderland has. So rich is the story that thousands of spin-offs were created over the years. In 2015, theatre group Les Enfants Terribles was inspired to write a 190-page script that brings Carroll’s Wonderland alive in an immersive experience of interweaving narratives so surreal that one feels just as Alice felt when catapulted into that magical world.
Unfolding in the atmospheric Vaults beneath Waterloo’s Station, the audience is ushered in and guided by the outlandish characters of the story and, early on in the show, they are are asked to make a choice between “Drink Me” and “Eat Me” as they are presented with a selection of edibles. The choice dictates what one sees and experiences thereafter. Spectators are then divided into groups, given the role of playing card sets, and each individual is assigned to a different suit.
Theatre-goers may (or may not) encounter the Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, Humpty Dumpty or any of the other infamous creatures of the tale. Each character will reveal something about the plot and encourage rivalry between suits. Puppetry, circus acts, special effects, music and improvisation daze and amaze at every turn. One of the most entertaining scenes is a huge tea party that sees members of the audience on either side of a very long table, with characters sitting among them and engaging in nonsensical debates.
The most remarkable aspect is the precision with which the scenes are coordinated and the way the action flows and even allows for the occasional coming together of different groups (or suits). The narrative, as experienced by one single group, is not particularly complex or wildly enticing, but the way the actors interact with the audience and the sheer surrealism of the scenarios is hilarious and keeps the excitement levels high, making the show a unique and marvellous experience.
The set is truly impressive and the large, labyrinthine space is the ideal recreation of Wonderland: the grandeur and scale of the production could never be achieved on a standard stage. The piece sits somewhere between theatre, a dreamlike experience and an elaborate game for grown-ups, who are invited to allow themselves to be mesmerised.
The driving force of the show is the surprise element. The cast is great at shifting from script to improvisation and while the audience expects to be occasionally addressed by the characters, the actors themselves must be ready to receive unexpected replies or comments, making the exchanges, and Alice’s Adventures Underground as a whole, truly exhilarating.
Photo: Rah Petherbridge
Alice’s Adventures Underground is at the Vaults from 15th April 2017 until 23rd September 2017. Book your tickets here.