When I received an email from Mr W. Rabbit, Chief Warder of Wonderland, I started to get really excited about Alice’s Adventures Underground. This was it – months after tickets were bought we were finally entering a world created by critically acclaimed theatre company Les Enfants Terribles who wanted to celebrate Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (150 years old this year) in the best possible way. Written by Anthony Spargo, they have created an all immersive theatre experience which takes people from room to room to experience a Wonderland where the Queen of Hearts rules supreme and a world which has completely banned nonsense.
We handed in our coats and bags, bought a drink, some delicious sweets, and waited until it was time for us to head in. Promptly at 7.00pm our journey began and the first room we went to was Carroll’s very messy study (both my parents would have started cleaning it). Dimly lit, full of photographs and discarded playing cards, and mirrors – we explored here for a while before the show really began. With a literal bang too. From here we were presented with a choice – either Eat Me or Drink Me – one made us all bigger and one made us much smaller. My friends and I were as strategic as possible – we wanted to experience as much as possible so we split into pairs and bid each other farewell. What we didn’t know was that we would be split up again, making four groups one for each suit of cards. Each journey was very, very different from the other.
After this the fun really begins. It’s been a 150 years since Alice fell down the rabbit hole and revolution is in the air. Clubs and Spades want things to change while Diamonds and Hearts are perfectly happy with the status quo. I ended up as a Club and my ancestors used to be the Queen’s guard. Not anymore and we are the lowest of the low. Before I go into some of the amazing things I saw, I need to warn you all to pay attention to the card you are given. I saw mine, had a very stupid moment and was sure that the J in the corners read 1 and that I was a One of Clubs.
There isn’t a One of anything in a pack of cards – something I conveniently forgot. So when one of the guards asked me what I was I told them. The look on her face was priceless. She looked at my card and then back at me. Pityingly she told me that there aren’t any Ones and that I am a Knave. This was after I misheard her earlier when she said we were going to meet a certain character. I thought she said ‘beat’ and was astonished that no one else in my group was shocked that we were going to go and beat someone up. By the end, she announced to the whole group to ‘watch out for this Knave. She has no idea what’s going on’! It was hilarious and also quite true.
But I had only had no idea what was going on because I was so swept up in everything. Each room became curiouser and curiouser and I was lucky enough to see a still high caterpillar, the Queen of Hearts’ Tart Maker, the Cheshire cat beautifully brought to life through puppetry, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum being big babies, and be part of the revolution. I will also say to you all, don’t trust the Diamonds because they have eyes everywhere and they are always watching. In the words of Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance at all times. At the end, when my friends and I compared notes it was obvious that everyone saw some pretty excellent things.
Every single room was a marvel. Some rooms were lined only with books, others only with mirrors. Rooms with spying peepholes, kitchens with pigs which were once human babies, and a tea party table with chipped and broken cups and saucers and tea pots. The set design was amazing. Every single member of the 30-strong cast were fantastic. Just from my experience they interacted with us and all of our unpredictability (One of Clubs?!) with ease. We weren’t the first people they met and we definitely weren’t the last, though you couldn’t tell that at all. They were professional and engaging and made me feel all rebellious and pro-nonsense.
As I said above, I was on my own and I didn’t mind this at all – we became a team by the end of the experience, all bound together with a burning desire to overthrow the Queen. Huge kudos to the actors for this because they created a team amongst strangers. While most of the experience is alone, you do meet up with the other houses for two scenes, one being the best tea party ever, and the other a courthouse drama (where the Hearts’ salute to the Queen had me in stitches).
Throughout the whole experience we were chaperoned from one room to the other, making you very aware that this is like a guided tour – I actually didn’t mind this at all because I had absolutely no desire to get lost. There were points when we bumped into other groups, I know it’s inevitable but it did detract a little from the whole show. But only a very little. With this structure, I only got to see part of the story and my friends saw other parts. None of us saw the whole. Again I didn’t mind this because the story I was led through was a whole for my character. But there were some things that my friends did which I would have loved to do.
At the end we were all led to the Queen’s Garden Bar, beautifully and quirkily set up, where we had some cocktails, sweets, and a full debriefing. We also flirted heavily with a 150 year old walrus but that’s a story for another time.
The whole experience lasts 90 minutes and I can see Les Enfant Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground being incredibly popular as it continues its run all through summer. If you get the chance please do consider going – tickets start at £35 per head and as an innovative immersive theatre experience the price is extremely reasonable. It was a crazy, hilarious evening and I am very tempted to do again, if just to be a Heart and do their salute.
Photography isn’t allowed until you get to the bar at the end. If you think this is a hardship then you’ll get so swallowed up the whole experience that you won’t think that way for very long.
Alice’s Adventures Underground is at The Vaults, Waterloo until August 2015.