Alice’s Adventures Underground review at Vaults, London – ‘gorgeously designed’
Beneath the familiar fantasy of Lewis Carroll’s wonderland, a rebellion is growing. Featuring a reworked plot and an expanded roster of characters, Alice’s Adventures Underground returns to the labyrinthine Vaults beneath Waterloo Station following the show’s successful 2015 premiere.
This time around, writers Anthony Spargo and Oliver Lansley have overhauled their sprawling, ambitious creation, inserting a silly, subversive plot involving espionage, insanity, and surreptitious tart-stealing.
Split into groups at the outset, the audience are assigned roles in a conspiracy to topple the Queen of Hearts, then rushed through the intricate, gorgeously tactile interiors of Samuel Wyer’s sets. Nina Dunn’s video projections blend seamlessly with physical props, summoning animated shadow puppets and grainy old photographs which move disconcertingly.
Throughout the show, we pursue a ghostly vision of Alice, who flits between mirrors, looking out from every looking glass, equally curious and confused, struggling to remember her past after a protracted stay in a nonsensical world.
Each member of the almost 40-strong ensemble tackles multiple roles, taking pains to give even the most briefly-glimpsed character a sense of purpose – from harassed playing cards to code-cracking eggs. Half a dozen denizens of wonderland are evoked with ambitious, unsettling puppets by Max Humphries and Finn Caldwell. A sleepy, sinuous caterpillar droops from the ceiling. A massive Jabberwock stalks by on spindly legs.
Though it passes in a blur, this combination of rich detail, elegant optical illusions, and sumptuous sense of spectacle creates an intoxicating world which is a delight to explore.
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