Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Opera House

Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a story that has been loved and revered by adults and children alike for over 150 years. Now, since its creation in 2011, Christopher Wheeldon’s production has toured the world and delighted audiences as Alice (Akane Takada) tumbles down the rabbit hole, spinning, twirling and jumping her way through Wonderland, encountering a host of recognisable characters along the way. Now it returns to the Royal Opera House for a limited run, to enthral and excite us all over again, as we follow Alice on an adventure we could only ever dream of.

It seems this production relies less on the actual ballet, and more on Bob Crowley’s magical, transformative design — from the gentile idyllic English Countryside where the story ends and begins, to the wacky underworlds of Wonderland. Standout sets included the menacing Duchess’ (Gary Avis) kitchen which was the stuff of nightmares, drenched in red and splattered blood and with meat cleavers and giant pig carcasses, and the Mad Hatter’s (Steven McRae) tea table, a multi-coloured psychedelic daydream with Alice perched on a giant Victoria sponge. All of this is complimented by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington’s hallucinatory projections, enhancing the story. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is rather episodic, and Nicholas Wright’s scenario seems to revolve around the spectacular set changes, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The dancers, draped in an array of gorgeous (at times frightening) and brightly coloured costumes, fly through Wheeldon’s choreography with ease and elegance. Takada was ethereal and playful as Alice, and Alex Campbell was charming as the Knave. However, both lacked the characterisation of other crowd favourites, such as the hilariously inept Queen of Hearts (Laura Morera, who is awfully good at being terrible) who is literally dragged through her comically absurd number. The Mad Hatter’s dance is a hypnotic treat, and as McRae taps and beats his way around the stage, he lulls Alice and us into a slack-jawed trance. Combined with the ominous Cheshire cat and its chilling smile that was manoeuvred in giant pieces like a severed puppet, they provide the hint of threatening lunacy from the original text.

This production brings the glorious curiosities of Carroll’s original novel to life – the fear, excitement, amazement and surprise. Granted, the ballet takes a backseat, but the rest of the production more than makes up for it. As the story turns full circle and Takada and Campbell become present-day tourists in the English garden where Alice first fell, a lovely and affectionate tribute is made to the timelessness of Carroll’s simply wonderful story. All Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland asks of you is to sit and marvel at it, and with Joby Talbot’s dreamy score and the Royal Ballet’s strong company, it’s an enormously easy feat.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland played at the Royal Opera House until October 28 2017.

Photo: Johan Persson