It’s been 150 years since the creation of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, so with Kidsweek tickets abound, I decided to make Adventures in Wonderland my big-ticket theatre jaunt over this year’s summer break.
The promise by children’s theatre group Les Petits, was an interactive family adventure for kids aged 5-10. An opportunity to get Off West End and be part of the production, wandering through a life-size Wonderland that has been created in the atmospheric arts space, The Vaults, located beneath Waterloo station.
Much has been written about Alice’s Adventures Underground, the grown up, more macabre version of the story, created by experiential theatre group Les Enfants Terribles. Yet it was almost impossible to find a dedicated review of the this daytime production by their children’s division, also dedicated to inspiring audiences through imaginative productions and incredible storytelling.
The kids were hooked from the offset. We were led into a dark and dusty replica of Lewis Carroll’s library to hear desperate pleas from poor old Alice, stuck behind the mirrors, and lost in Wonderland. It was our job to find her and get her out. We were ready!
Transported down the rabbit hole, we found ourselves in the famous chequered hallway of doors, with the White Rabbit inviting my companion to drink a shrinking potion in order to lead our group through one of the two doors. Split into two opposing teams, it was now a race against time to find Alice. Along with the reds we followed our card guard from room to room, through dimly lit corridors . In every room we met an important character from the story, each providing clues or posing new questions for Alice’s whereabouts. The pace was fast. From the prose of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee to the riddles of the grinning Cheshire Cat. From the nonsensical ramblings of Humpty Dumpty to a real-life Mad Hatters Tea Party complete with a Mister-Maker-inspired Mad Hatter and real tarts!
The dads of the group were definitely more intimidated by the seething Queen of Hearts than some of the kids. Her tarts stolen, unable to find her garden and stuck in a room full of doors, she wasn’t a happy Queen. Looking around, I could see why. Within minutes of the door closing it became very apparent why were asked to stay close to our little ones at all times. Aside from this specific room which was framed by confusing doors, the sheer scale of the set, and genius maze of corridors would have made a horrifying experience for anybody of any age being left behind by their group.
Adventures in Wonderland has all the spirit and madness of the original book, which at times can make it intimidating and intense as well as exciting, especially for visitors on the younger end of the spectrum. This certainly explains why the organisers are completely unwavering in their instruction not to bring along babes in arms and limit the accompaniment of younger siblings to specific days and times.
What was most impressive about this production, however, is the sheer strength of delivery. Aside from the lavish and scalable set; the seamless direction, punchy dialogue and impressive costumes were first-rate throughout, so much so that I actually forgot that I was even at a children’s production. There was, in my opinion a bit of a missed opportunity with regards to the ending. It’s a shame that the organisers didn’t capitalise on the cosy seated area of the venue to reenact the courtroom scene with us as the judging jury, but I had to remind myself that this was their retelling of the classic, and in their story our mission was to find Alice, not to get to the end of the book.
If you want to avoid any other disappointment don’t (like me) leave all of your belongings (including your money) in the cloakroom. This will render you penniless to buy one of the delicious cakes and tarts on offer at the end and, however impressive the theatre, make you an incredibly unpopular mummy for the rest of the day.
Adventures in Wonderland for us delivered everything that immersive theatre should be. Free from the restrictions of a seated production and at liberty to ham it up with the characters of each room, adults were as excited as children at seeing the story unfold through their eyes. Conversely, for just an hour, our kids were lucky enough to be treated to theatre in its most grown up form. Challenged to give themselves up to the mercy of the story and be whisked along with the production wherever it took them. They understood the urgency of the task, they played along and were ecstatic to finally be rewarded with finding and meeting their hero.
I usually find that you can tell a lot about how much kids have got from their theatrical experience, by what they tell others of their own accord. When I got home I had a message from my companion to the show, who had overheard her daughter recounting our afternoon to her dad. She absolutely hit the nail on the head in communicating her levels of excitement. “Daddy, we didn’t just see Alice in Wonderland, we were actually in Wonderland”. I couldn’t have agreed more. For an hour at least, it felt like we absolutely were.
Adventures in Wonderland is at The Vaults, Launcelot Street Waterloo London, SE1 7AD until 30th August.
Admission: Adults £18.50, Children £12.50 (or Children £Free with Kidsweek tickets, subject to availability). 1 adult ticket to accompany no more than 2 children.