REVIEW: Alice's Adventures Underground at The Vaults
| By Harrison Fuller
The Vaults is a unique performance venue, located in disused railway tunnels below Waterloo Station. With almost 30,000 sq ft of space, the scope and scale of productions it can house is immense. Les Enfant Terribles are presenting their reworked adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – an immersive adventure full of surprises and splendour. The script for this year’s production of Alice's Adventures Underground is 60 pages longer than the 2015 Olivier nominated show, giving audiences even more of an experience.
The journey into Wonderland begins right at the box office. The front of house area uses the original Tenniel illustrations as an influence and helps to ramp up the anticipation. The bar is stocked with a series of cocktails, all inspired by the story and each with a little twist of magic. This really is like no other theatre experience.
And that is what it is – an experience. When you go to the theatre, you are an observer, watching the action unfold on the stage. Here the cast and creative team have found a way to make a 152-year-old text seem fresh and engaging. And there is no option to jut sit back and watch. As an audience, you are very much involved in the story and integral to its success.
Audience participation is often a red flag to many, something confined to the annual panto or tourist attraction, but here there is no scary dungeonesque experience, nor are you ever put in an uncomfortable position. The cast are wonderful at making sure everyone is engaged and enjoying the experience without it ever feeling threatening.
Having spoken with Samuel Wyer, the show’s designer, it is clear that this production has been a labour of love for all involved. The creative freedom permitted by Lewis Carroll’s text has allowed the creative team to work in a new, liberating style. The venue itself helps with atmosphere and setting but Wyer’s designs are something Carroll himself would be delighted by.
The 90 minutes you spend in Wonderland fly by and you long for the journey to continue. Every space is one in which you wish you could spend more time (always leave the audience wanting more!) and with so much to see, it adds to the wonder and mystery of the experience. With overlapping stories and an interweaving narrative, it also leaves the audience wanting to come back again and again to experience all permutations.
With every audience and every entry into wonderland being different, no two stories are ever quite the same, ensuring this production stays fresh, fun and fabulous.