Slicker and sillier, Adventures in Wonderland is still a sweet treat

When award-winning children’s theatre company Les Petits first brought their immersive adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to The Vaults, we were left grinning from ear to ear. However, since being frightened half to death by Rob Watt’s Goosebumps at the same venue, I was struggling to persuade my daughter back to this style of theatre, even with the promise of exploring Wonderland all over again.

As we approached the gloomy tunnels under Waterloo Station, I could see that she was apprehensive. This was being compounded by the dingy entrance adorned with skull and crossbones, and there were no words of reassurance from her accompanying friend, who had never experienced this kind of theatre before. I feared that I was going to have my hands full. I was glad I’d drafted in reinforcements (aka her Dad).

The layout of the main foyer, the cloakroom, the box office and the bar, appeared much slicker than before. There were plenty of loos and the popular flamingo croquet was already in action. We were even divided into our groups before we stood in line for our performance. Regardless of things ticking along like a well-wound pocket watch, the kids were still full of impatient excitement as we huddled together with around 20 others, waiting for our call to enter.

Two years on and we were back in Lewis Carroll’s dusty study, packed with curious things in jars and eery moving pictures. With a flicker of the lights, a slightly kookier looking Alice appeared, still stuck behind the mirror and still lost in Wonderland, but this time intent on playing tricks on the Queen of Hearts by stealing her beloved jam tarts! At least, that’s what I think the new twist was. The rattle of the trains above and some neighbouring building work rendered her inaudible for a key moment in the briefing.

Elbows were soon out, as excited adults then tried to keep pace with eager youngsters, as we squeezed through the dark and narrow passageways, crowding into the space which would transport us down the rabbit hole. Once again we were greeted by the White Rabbit, with the chance to grow or shrink determining our group’s path to find her.

On the surface, so much about this return production is the same as the original. The fast paced narrative, the sumptuous costumes, the elaborate set and the spectacular staging, even the majority of the characters that we encounter rang more than a few bells. There is, however, this time around, a much greater injection of silliness, and a more infectious humour which brings light to the imposing tunnels and is highly reminiscent of other Les Petits productions (such as Captain Flynn), that we have come to know and love.

We enjoyed the new clowning between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, distracting young visitors from their scarily big heads set down on the floor. The new Queen of Hearts (played by Adam Collier) was also much less intimidating, and more like a cheeky pantomime dame (in a good way), with pencilled-on lips and an outlandish costume, leading to playful interaction with some dads. She even had one of my young companions feeling sorry for her loss of tarts.

The new set of mushrooms might have seemed right at home in the damp, but I can’t say that the addition of the caterpillar quite captured the trippyness i’ve come to associate with him, but at least the addition of the Unbirthday Song at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party created something of a finale to what previously felt like an abrupt end to our jolly jaunt.

If you missed Adventures in Wonderland the first time around, please don’t make that mistake again. With so few theatre companies investing this level of production into children’s performances, it will do you all the world of good to set yourselves free from the comfy chairs and stop experiencing theatre at arm’s length. It’s expensive, yes, cost prohibitive for some, and it might mean having to deal with the unpredictable and the unexpected, but don’t we all do that as parents and carers anyway?

Intent on demonstrating their satisfaction, I handed my traditional star rating over to my guests, with scores of 2 million 600 and 1068 out of 10, coming through, respectively. Why was it such a resounding success? Well, aside from being described as “the best thing I’ve seen“, it was more importantly “a million times better than Goosebumps” and in comparison described as  “happy exciting”. Phew, I thought to myself, thank goodness for that. Our love affair with interactive theatre is free to continue. I think i’ve got her back.

Adventures in Wonderland is at The Vaults until 3rd September.
Admission £26.50 Adults, £15.50 Children, Family Ticket £71.00.
Check Kidsweek listings from 13th June for Kids go Free offers.
Recommended age 5-10 years.
Strictly no buggies and no babes in arms.
See website for performance dates and times.

Read my original review of Adventures in Wonderland, and my recent interview with Les Petits Artistic Director, Oliver Lansley.

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