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The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party review at the Roundhouse, London – ‘superbly athletic’

Isaac 'Turbo" Baptiste and the cast of The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at Royal Opera House, London
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One of Royal Ballet supremo Kevin O’Hare’s more inspired ideas was to commission Kate Prince’s hip-hop version of Alice for the Linbury Studio to coincide with Christopher Wheeldon’s more traditional production on the main stage.

Two years down the line, Prince has expanded the conceit of investigating the source of each character’s madness through therapy before escaping into the fantasy dimension of Wonderland. Guided by a chorus/narrator who spells out the issues and trajectories of the narrative it is freighted with a responsibility that derives from dialogue with the mental illness charity Time to Change.

While the psychological unpacking is admirable it slows the mechanism of the work considerably. The first half suffers from an excess of exposition: the Red Queen’s bullied and brutalized childhood, the White Rabbit’s OCD tendencies, Tweedledum’s dead twin brother kept alive in his imagination as a bulwark against unbearable grief; it’s all very worthy but detracts from the fizz and pop and energy of the original show. Swedish hip hop group Bounce! – Prince’s original inspiration for founding ZooNation – managed to pack similar issues with far greater economy into Insane in the Brain – their dance version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

When they let rip, however, the performers are superbly athletic, delivering street-dance moves to a tremendous band who shift from soul to funk to disco with ease. Tommy Franzen’s epic solo in which he jerks and flips like a marionette whose strings are being pulled from the inside is engaging and alarming; Isssac ‘Turbo’ Baptiste’s Mad Hatter has traces of Baron Samedi voodoo and his solo revealing that milliner’s mercury wrecked his mental health is genuinely distressing. The second half is much more fun as the puppet dormouse lip syncing to the Bee Gees’ pastiche I Keep Falling Asleep and the tabletop hip hop kick everything up a gear and the party atmosphere becomes infectious.

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