‘Drink Me’ or ‘Eat Me’? The answer to that question will determine the route you take through Wonderland; purposefully split off from your party, you could find yourself talking to strangers, committing sins, ‘fessing up to other’s wrongdoings and attending an eccentric Mad Hatter’s tea party, before finally making your way to the magnificent Wonderland Ball.
That much information is in the programme. I’ll refrain from any further insider revelations about the rooms you’ll enter as a part of the wondrous journey, for the discovery of this incredible set is much of the fun.
The artistic direction from Samuel Wyer is truly a feat: firstly, for its conception and spectacular execution and, secondly, for the logistical functionality of the project. Within every time slot the participants are split into four playing card suits, each partaking in a differently timed route through Wonderland, with paths that overlap and interact. This must have caused a brigade of sleepless nights, as the director, writer and producer Oliver Lansley fully admits in the programme. And of course, even with intricate and delicate planning, things don’t always happen smoothly. On press night a producer’s ‘worst nightmare’ occurred (as declared by producer and general manager Emma Brunjes): they suffered a mains power outage. An abundance of unnecessary apologies were made –unnecessary for the fact that being allowed an extra hour before entering the maze was almost preferable: anticipation was heightened, socials barriers were dislodged in an increasingly liquored crowd and the influx of newcomers awaiting their turn to enter the fantasy created further excitement.
Upon entering this version of Wonderland, we knew that our patience was to be rewarded. The creative team have done an incredible job in bringing the fantastical, silly, strange, eerie magic of Alice to life. They’ve allowed the curious intricacies of Lewis Carroll’s imagination to remain in place in the form of puppetry, visual trickery and majestic costumes, whilst balancing the myriad bizarre, daydream-like tales that make up Carroll’s Alice with a simple narrative that informs each individual journey through Wonderland. The basic storyline successfully makes historical allusions to communism, absolute monarchies and dictatorships as a way of engaging the audience and giving us a role to play. In some parts it was like we were being tested as a part of a psychological experiment, and had our choices been subject to analysis, I fear the instincts of my group would have caused alarm.
It seems that Oliver Lansley and his team are not afraid of a challenge; the project (which spent three years in development) is certainly ambitious, and to their absolute credit, it would be near impossible to occupy this production with further activity. Immersive theatre has been a buzz term in recent years, but this group pledge that their decision to run the production in this manner is not gratuitous – and I agree. On the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, it is hard to imagine a more faithful testament to his vision than creating a physical pathway into his imagined world.
I take my hat off to you mad bunch.
Alice’s Adventures Underground is playing until 31 August. For tickets and further information visit the Alice Adventure’s Underground website.