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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Still to come in May for art-loving families…

May is awash with family-friendly arts festivals; from Udderbelly and London Wonderground, to Brighton Fringe and Dulwich Festival. There’s even another instalment of street art in my local manor of Brockley. Beyond all that’s on offer, however, I bet you had’t even realised that 3 big-hitting treats for art-loving families are due to land before May is out:

1. Brand new Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro
The idea for Arts Aloud was born in Kusama’s Obliteration Room at Tate Modern in 2012, meaning this lady’s work will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Promising new paintings with multiplying dots, new infinity mirror rooms and even new pumpkin sculptures, this summer showcase is set to be the artist’s most extensive exhibition at this venue.
Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro, 25th May to 30th July
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW and 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE
Admission £TBC

2. The arrival of Goosebumps Kids
Last month Goosebumps Alive arrived at The Vaults in Waterloo, bringing with it live burials, ghost stories and monsters galore. Having been granted permission to create this immersive theatrical world from the book series by R.L Stine, it made sense for the organisers to produce a watered down version in order to scare our kids (and their parents) half witless. The show is designed to be much more lighthearted fun, but is still pitched at 5-11 year olds, requires parental supervision and will not be admitting any younger siblings. It might be an idea to take more than one spare pair of pants 😎
Goosebumps Kids at The Vaults, 15th May to 5th June
Launcelot Street, SE1 7AD
Admission £15 for both children and adults

3. Elytra Filament Pavilion launches V&A’s Engineering Season
Slightly stealing the Serpentine Pavilion’s thunder this summer, is a newly commissioned garden installation by experimental architect Achim Menges, working with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer. The Elytra Filament Pavilion marks the start of the first ever Engineering Season at the V&A and will explore the impact of robotic technology on architectural design and engineering. The result should represent a canopy-like structure for visitors to walk beneath and is expected to grow and change according to the patterns of behaviour picked up in the garden by its real-time sensors (so ensure the kids are on their best). There will also be some rare opportunities to witness live construction.
Elytra Filament Pavilion at the V&A, 18th May to 6th November
John Madejski Garden, V&A, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
Admission Free

 

Booking now: 5 family arts activities you won’t want to miss

I am always getting asked how on earth I find out about the things that I write about, especially when most activities are sold out quicker than you can lift a limb. Sometimes it’s a tip-off by press contacts, sometimes it’s my own digging around and sometimes it’s just pure luck – a chance spot on social media or a passing conversation with a friend. 
 
With half term holidays just around the corner, and Easter looming not long after, here are 5 unmissable arts activities where only the truly organised will be richly rewarded.
 
1. Imagine Children’s Festival
The Southbank Centre’s annual art, theatre and literary festival for kids takes hold for just under two weeks in February bringing a smorgasbord of family fun. This year’s event celebrates 100 years since the birth of the great poet and storyteller Roald Dahl, and is marked by its very own programme of events including an orchestral production of the BFG and the chance to make your own very own dream jar. The infamous giant storytelling bed also returns as well as a range of events and workshops ranging from improv to writing and poetry. Outside of the paid programme there’s also a host of free activities to get involved in, suitable for children of all ages. 
 
Imagine Children’s Festival
10-21 February, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Admission prices vary. Check specific events for age guidance
See website for details

2. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius
The much celebrated painter of the Mona Lisa has being given special recognition by the Science Museum in this incredible exhibition which honours his status as an inventor and engineer by re-building his inventions. Promising 13 interactive games and 10 multimedia installations, the exhibition also features historical models recreated from his famous drawings and sketches of flying machines and some more modern examples too. Set to be the must-see exhibition of the year and so exciting it’s sure to put the dinosaur queue at the neighbouring Natural History Museum to shame.   
 
Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius
10 February-4 September, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.  Admission Adults £10, Children 7-16 £8, Under 7s Free
Recommended age 5+

 
3. Goosebumps Kids
Last year Adventures in Wonderland set the bar very high in the world of children’s immersive theatre, so with the handiwork of the same set designer (Samuel Wyer) and the same incredible location (The Vaults) I am expecting great things! Audience members are expected to wind their way through the abandoned railway tunnels and through a series of spine-tingling tales inspired by some of Stine’s most popular creations including The Blob That Ate Everyone and The Haunted Mask. Goosebumps Kids is billed to be a shorter (50 mins, no interval) and slightly less scary take on the adult version which opens on the 6th April, but is expected to have enough twists and turns to keep you all on your (curling) toes.
 
Goosebumps Kids
From 14 May, The Vaults Theatre, Leake St, London SE1 7NN
Admission for all visitors is £15 per visitor, plus £1.50 booking fee  
Recommended age 5-11
Book tickets for Goosebumps Kids

4. Half Term at the Royal Albert Hall
If you’re feeling the need to improve your child’s listening skills, what better place to go than one of Britain’s most famous concert halls, home to the annual Proms. As well as term-time music and storytelling sessions for the under 5s, half term brings a musical extravaganza to this incredible Grade II Listed building in the form of Jazz For Kids; a special jazz session for children aged 4-9 hosted by The Dixie Ticklers. Children are invited to sing, dance, listen to the music and meet the musicians, with plenty of opportunity to fondle the instruments for themselves. When you’re done, you’re in the perfect place to make a day of it – right on the doorstep of the fabulous Kensington Gardens, home to Princess Diana Memorial Playground and the Serpentine Galleries.
 
Jazz For Kids: Jumpin’ at the Royal Albert Hall
18 February, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
10.30am and 1.30pm. Admission Adults £13.24, Children £7.12
Recommended age 4-9
See website for details of this and other half term events

5. My First Ballet
For the fifth year running, My First Ballet returns to London’s Peacock Theatre in an exciting collaboration between English National Ballet and English National Ballet School, enabling children as young as three to experience an adaptation of a classic ballet production. This year’s treat is the romantic fairytale Sleeping Beauty, featuring all the magic of the traditional story but with the addition of narrators and shortened musical scores to help little ones to follow proceedings. A victim of their own success, these tailor-made productions are always a sell-out, so if you aren’t lucky enough to catch its preview in London, the production will be touring around the country until the end of May.

My First Ballet
24 March–2 April, Peacock Theatre, Portugal St, London WC2A 2HT
Times vary, check website for booking details. Tickets £10-£25, Family ticket £65
Recommended age 3+
Locations included in the nationwide tour are Norwich (8 & 9 Apr), Dartford (16 & 17 Apr), Hastings (7 & 8 May), Manchester (23 & 24 Apr), Bristol, (21 & 22 May), Woking (28 & 29 May) and Oxford (30 Apr & 1 May)