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Alice’s Adventures Underground

Grace Carter (Alice) in Alice's Adventures Underground, The Vaults, London
Grace Carter (Alice) in Alice's Adventures Underground, The Vaults, London

To mark the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s novel, Les Enfants Terribles and producer Emma Brunjes have transformed the sprawling Vaults beneath Waterloo into a subterranean Wonderland. It’s an ambitious, logistically complex project, one clearly marking itself out as an event: there are a number of bars on site, merchandise, a premium ticket package. But there’s also an incredible visual richness to the experience and, at times, a dash of real magic and wonder.

The audience enters the space at intervals in groups of 52 and are made to choose between two paths: ‘eat me’ and ‘drink me’. They are then further broken down into groups of 14 and guided around rather than being left to roam freely.

The attention to detail in Samuel Wyer’s design is a delight, each room full of little treats. There’s inventive puppetry from Max Humphries and Finn Caldwell, and some memorable set-pieces, particularly the caterpillar’s cushioned lair, the human zoetrope that first takes the audience to Wonderland, and the Madhatter’s tea-party which takes place at a vast wooden table, the rumble of trains overhead fully integrated into the world.

While it’s not quite as slick as a production by Punchdrunk – you can sometimes see the joins and there are issues with sound-bleed – it plays with the relationship between narrative and audience agency in interesting ways. Each group has a slightly different experience, the extent of which only becomes clear at the end. The sidelining of Alice herself feels odd though, even if it’s a thrill to journey into Wonderland yourself.

Verdict
A beautifully designed, logistically ambitious descent into Wonderland
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