As children, my sister and I watched the 1973 film version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland religiously. Produced well before we were even born, the film was something of a cult favourite for us and we had it on VHS. I think we wore that old tape out the amount of times we viewed it. We knew all the lyrics, enjoyed the acting talents of Michael Crawford and Dudley Moore, and dreamed of visiting Wonderland ourselves so that we too could meet The Cheshire Cat, The White Rabbit and the other colourful characters that have endured for over 100 years.
The closest we came to achieving this was at Les Enfants Terribles’ interpretation, reimagined as Alice’s Adventures Underground, held at The Vaults Theatre near Waterloo Station. In fact, you occasionally will hear the rumble of the trains and feel some slight vibration during the play, which adds to the subterranean ambience.
90 minutes long, the play is interactive and the characters lead you through a maze of creatively decorated rooms and corridors. It was a bit disorienting at first. There is very little sitting, and by the way, no bathroom breaks. Dress code is black or red and if you’re familiar with the novel you will get why. Oh, and comfortable shoes are recommended so ladies, ditch the heels, you won’t want or need them.
SPOILER ALERT: The play begins in a quintessential Victorian library. A grandfather’s clock ticks away ominously. The tables and walls (if memory serves me correctly as pictures are not permitted during the performance) are covered with books. Near the entrance is a small rocking horse. A couple of mirrors decorate the corners (Alice appears here as a ghostly presence, telling you how she came to be in Wonderland), and antiquated lamps flicker away.
We all walked into the room (I think about 40 of us), wondering what to do. A man in the room wearing a waistcoat and I think a pocket watch, (Lewis Carroll maybe?) walked around perplexed, saying nothing. My sister marched over to a table to leaf through a book. One of my cousins decided to sit in an old armchair. The rest of us, unsure of that to do or say, slowly made our way through the room to peer at this and that. After a monologue from Alice, trapped in the mirrors, you hear a small explosion and a door opens, leading through a narrow passage of books and loose pages.
The real fun starts when you reach a stage with steps. It’s here you have to decide which path you want to take (Eat Me or Drink Me). Set within a large picture frame, the stage is cleverly designed as an optical illusion so that if a character walks to the Eat Me door, they appear bigger than those who take the Drink Me door. The door you choose will determine your experience, as we discovered when we later compared notes.
Without giving too much of the plot away, (my sister banned me!) my cousin and I were separated from the rest of our friends. To enter Wonderland, you must have a card that acts as a passport. If you are caught -according to the characters- wandering through Wonderland without the right documentation, the Queen of Hearts will have your head, (“Off with his head!” Remember that?). Our group had to discover who accidentally planted the white roses and then tried painting them red to cover the crime. This required spying on other groups in Wonderland and running through a dark misty forest.Some of us came across Tweedledum and Tweedledee in an aerial performance. Mischievously, they sprayed the audience with water (hahaha guys, you missed me!) and sang nonsense, which, by the way, is a crime in Wonderland!
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was…well…mad! The room is decrepit with broken crockery everywhere, a massive clock that clearly doesn’t work, and a large table for all of us to sit down and rest our heels. By the way, if you want a drink at the tea party, then prior to the start of the play make sure you purchase a cork and ribbon for £5 at the bar. You will later hand it over for your ‘tea’ (refreshing alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages served in dainty tea cups). The ending is a lot of mad fun. Sorry, I won’t tell you want happens, you wouldn’t want me to ruin the experience for you would you?
After the play, head to the bar and grab some drinks and take pictures at the photo booth. There are souvenirs for sale and they seem reasonably priced.
It’s such a fun and amazing play. The actors were brilliant and the script is crisp, fast and witty. The sets are extremely ethereal. We all had a terrific time, and upon comparing notes, we realised that by taking different routes we saw and missed different things. We are all considering a second trip so that those of us who took the Eat Me route will take the Drink Me route instead and vice versa. Now my sister and I can say we’ve visited Wonderland. I can’t wait to see some of the other plays by Les Enfants Terrible!