UPDATE: Adventures in Wonderland is back at the Vaults for a Summer 2017 season. Read about the show here.
What would it be like, to see the world through a child’s eyes?
I was given a clue when we were walking to The Vaults, Waterloo Station’s eerie, transformative exhibition and performance space, on our way to see Les Petits’ Adventures in Wonderland. In the depths of Leake Street, my five-year-old son and his friend were transfixed by graffiti artists, spray-painting robots onto the walls of the tunnel. We adults had seen this so many times it had become banal but to the youngsters, it was astonishing. Grown-ups, spraying robots onto a wall?? Before their very eyes? Wow.
But, on stepping into Samuel Wyer’s breathtakingly designed Wonderland, I felt as though it was ME who was seeing the world through a child’s eyes. It had all the grotesque, fusty details and manic energy you might expect from a faithful rendition of Lewis Carroll’s book (which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year). Our first port of call was a room resembling a scruffy junk shop, with books heaped everywhere, and a man dressed in Victorian costume who was developing photographs in the middle. He invited us to explore the room (Yikes! Would the children run amok among the mess?) but after a minute or two, we heard a girl’s voice calling for help….and then the adventure unfolded.
We were split into two teams and tasked with finding Alice, helped by two Card Guards (who were very cheeky about their mistress, the Red Queen). They led us down fur-lined corridors, out into rooms where crows’ nests dangled from the ceiling; through a gigantic zoetrope and off to meet the White Rabbit, who offered shrinking potions, and sweets to make us grow larger. Finally, we ended up in a colossal room where the Mad Hatter held his grotesque tea party, then invited us to celebrate our un-birthdays with flamingo croquet, cake, punch and cocktails served in jam jars.
This production is only the second by Les Petits, an offshoot of Les Enfants Terribles. Their first, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs (which I’ve also reviewed here) was promisingly idiosyncratic, but with Adventures in Wonderland the creative verve has ramped up several notches.
The team of Oliver Lansley, James Seagar, Emma Earle and Emma Brunjes have harnessed the macarbre beauty of Lewis Carrol’s characters, who are perfect for a children’s performance and played here with gusto. Humpty Dumpty invited us to tell him nonsense words, so he could give the meaning (my son’s contribution, ‘salt-nappy’, is apparently a nappy that’s been worn way too long, so it becomes all sweaty and salty. Yum). Tweedledum and Tweedledee oozed nursery humour, blowing raspberries and misting the audience with a plant spray. The Red Queen was a deranged pantomime Dame/schoolteacher hybrid, who had the children stunned into slack-jawed amazement.
The only slight flaw was that it felt, at times, as though we were being rushed along by the Card Guards. With a performance lasting 45 minutes, and several groups descending into Wonderland over the course of the day (687 guests will enter in total), if we weren’t kept to time, the performance could have been spoiled.
Afterwards, when we were asking the boys’ opinions, we probed to see if they had been at all frightened by any of it – the insanity and nonsense of some characters, or the dimly lit set.
‘Are you sure? I was scared.’
My son’s snorts of derision gave a clear answer. When you’re a child, every day is a Wonderland; you’re constantly hit by new, baffling sensations, so you take the world at face value. I suspect it’s only when you grow up that you learn to be uncomfortable about weirdness.
For me, Adventures in Wonderland was a delicious kind of discomfort.
Adventures in Wonderland ran at The Vaults, Waterloo station, until 31 August 2015. It was suitable for ages 5 and over. We were given tickets for the purpose of this review; all views are my own.
For more London activities for families, visit our Ultimate Guide.