Alice's Adventures Underground at The Vaults at Waterloo

Alice in Wonderland is one of those stories I know snippets of, but not necessarily in the right order. So when my friend Billi (who writes the excellent View From The Circle blog, which I highly recommend to all fans of theatre) asked if I wanted to come along to a press event for the revival of Les Enfants Terribles' Alice's Adventures Underground, returning to The Vaults after a sell-out run in 2015, I jumped at the chance to find out more about the story and its topsy-turvy world.

After arriving we went into the waiting area, which has been beautifully designed - it's full of nooks and crannies to sit and just drink in the atmosphere, backed by a soundtrack of retrofied Britney Spears hits and Red Hot Chilli Peppers whilst acrobats with dodo masks do tricks on hoops suspended from the ceiling. As you do.

Before the show started we managed to each grab a cocktail from Smith & Sinclair; I went for the Cheshire Cat, a mix of gin and green tea in a jam jar with a lemon sherbet lolly that supposedly makes the drink change colour when you use it to stir. Sadly my pictures are a bit darker than I'd like but it did seem to go a little lighter! Food meanwhile came from Saucy Chip, whose mac and cheese was excellent - sufficiently cheesy and with breadcrumbs for an extra bit of texture. I only regret not going for the version with added pancetta.


...and after

Soon enough we were called to begin our journey, and headed off down a corridor and into Wonderland...

The sets are so beautifully realised, particularly the opening study sequence - there's bookshelves coming out of the walls, things in jars and photographs being developed, all set to slightly creepy music. I also really loved the mix of old and new technology, particularly the second room representing Alice falling down the rabbit hole, which (after venturing down a tunnel of books and playing cards) is set up to look like a zoetrope but involves some amazingly mesmerising ceiling graphics. There's also a great use of forced perspective shortly afterwards in the 'eat me/drink me' sequence.

There are apparently 24 different storylines you can play through which depend on your various choices as well as being completely random, such as which suit of cards you are assigned. I was with the diamonds and we were lucky enough to tick off all the key points of the book (at least from my memory). From talking to Billi, who was a heart, everyone visits some of the same rooms, such as the Tweedledum and Tweedledee reciting 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' (which included some great Beatles gags - although I will warn you that you need to duck!) and the chaotic kitchen with the Cook and the Duchess. The tea party scene is also a particular highlight, with coloured tea fountains running down the table, a glamorously dishevelled March Hare and a Mad Hatter whose showmanship and command of the audience was utterly riveting, in a way where you're not quite sure what will happen next yet can't stop watching.

Also the puppets are incredible. The Cheshire Cat in particular was a highlight - during one scene shortly after meeting her, which involved standing in a dark tunnel looking through peepholes, I felt something brush past me, turned and there she was. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was an utterly magical moment. The frog and the butterfly are in more of a traditional style but very well done too, and the puppet suit for the White Rabbit is just amazing - kudos to him for putting on such a non-stop performance whilst contending with moveable ears!

Special mention must go to Alexander Wolfe, AKA The Mock Turtle, whose song 'The Mirror and the Moon' had the entire audience spellbound. In fact all the music is wonderful; if there was a soundtrack album available I'd snap it up in a heartbeat. Hint hint to any merchandising folk reading this! The Queen of Hearts, who appears in the final courtroom scene, is great too, with shades of Miranda Richardson as Queenie in Blackadder II about her (I also particularly loved her glittery red pout).

After the performance we were lucky enough to go back into the Mad Hatter's Tea Party scene and talk to some of the cast, including the Joker of Diamonds (who had been my guide through the whole experience) and the Dormouse. I was seriously impressed​ to learn that the actors play any of four different parts depending on the night; how they keep it all straight in such a frantic, action-packed show I have absolutely no idea.

Alice holding court.

Overall I absolutely loved Alice's Adventures Underground. Provided you're willing to go along with it, it's a show that rewards you whether you know the book backwards or are a complete newcomer. The level of detail is just incredible and the performances​ are seriously impressive. I want to go back already!

Alice's Adventures Underground runs at The Vaults until 23rd September and tickets start at £31.50 per adult.

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