This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. The book, written by Lewis Carroll, allegedly for a friend’s daughter after he told her the story on a river trip; was first published in 1865. It was followed up by Alice through the looking glass. The story has been translated into many languages and there have been numerous film and play adaptations of it. The most famous adaptation are the Disney cartoon version, released in 1951 and the version from 2010 starring Johnny Depp.
Some critics have tried to claim the magic of wonderland is simply the description of someone on a drug induced trip – however whatever the inspiration, wonderland is a fantastic fantasy world which has grabbed the imagination of children in the past, today and probably will for many years to come.
To celebrate this wonderful nonsense story where nothing is as it seems– there is an interactive theatre show called Alice Underground being held in the Vaults at Waterloo. The director, writer and producer of the show advises ‘growing old doesn’t mean growing up, embrace the nonsense, leave your adult at the door and join us for a while in Wonderland – we’re all mad here.’ My husband and I visited last month and it was a fantastic experience.
WARNING – If you plan to visit – I would advise you not to read any further as this blog will give away a lot of secrets and spoil the suspense and therefore the experience which is what the producer wants you to focus on.
Guests were instructed to come dressed in red and black for the Queens Court but sadly less than 50% of people took this advice so perhaps the effect was not quite as the producers imagined. I wore a black dress from New Look and accessorised with red suedette heels also from New Look and a red heart bag by Floozie which I got in the Debenhams sale. I also made a fascinator out of heart suit playing cards. The white rabbit commented on it and left me ‘in charge’ at one point because of it!
The show begins in a room full of various curios – there are book cases that are crooked, a writing desk, a mini dark room and most importantly a mirror. When you look in the mirror – a hologram of Alice appears. You are left in this room just long enough to wonder exactly what you have paid to see, before there is a bang and one of the bookcases opens to reveal a passage way covered in pages from books. You are then in a room of mirrors and the ceiling begins to spin – giving you the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole.
Next you are faced with a giant chessboard with a door on either side and you are introduced to the white rabbit. The white rabbit explains that you can either go through the large door or the small door and you are to select either the ‘eat me’ or the ‘drink me’ option depending on which you want. As the book says ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there’ and as such we chose the drink me and therefore the small door. This leads through to another area where you are given your Wonderland identity cards which determine which suit you are in. The rabbit then checks the coast is clear (when he left me in charge) before taking you into a dark room where you are entertained by the Cheshire cat. At that point we were split according to the suit on our cards. I was nervous to be separated from my husband as by now, I really did feel like I was Alice; entering a strange world where anything could happen.
We began in a room full of looking glasses which the resistance were hiding since the Queen had banned them in the kingdom. In one mirror we once again saw Alice but not as a hologram this time. She was musing on how she got there and who indeed she was.
Next we found ourselves in the kitchen, helping with the cooking. The Duchess holding a sneezing baby pig had makeup on which really frightened me and the chef kept making sudden loud bangs of the rolling pin.
Following that was a room with a knave who had been trying to paint the roses red as the Queen would be annoyed they had got white ones by mistake. They needed us to help them try and magic the brush clean.
We were then in a room with another member of the Wonderland resistance (the queen had apparently outlawed nonsense). We were given a party whistle and told to blow it when the answer to the riddle ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk’ was revealed which it was, later in the court room.
Subsequently we were taken to see Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee who were suspended from the ceiling and jumping around whilst trying to read; we made a swift exit as one of them announced they were about to be sick.
Lastly was my favourite room. We all sat on cushions on the floor whilst the caterpillar told us a story in between him drawing on his shisha pipe. Projected on the ceiling was a kind of image which perhaps represented his thoughts or a dream. My only criticism of this room was that the people operating the caterpillar could have been more discreet.
All the suits were then reunited to sit at the table for tea. I had wine in a tea cup and we listened to the mad hatter and others talk in riddles about such things as it always being tea time and jam tomorrow and jam yesterday-but never jam today.
After tea we were escourted in to the court room and organised by suit, whilst the queen of hearts tried to ascertain who had stolen her jam tarts. It turns out my husband’s group had. The story ends with Alice saving the day and the queen being put behind the looking glass.
We ended the show in the Queens bar where you got to meet the cast and try some gorgeous cocktails served in jam jars. Incidently 6077 jam jars were needed for this! It truly was a magical experience, like entering a dream world and certainly gave me a new appreciation for the text.