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Adventures in Wonderland at The Vaults, London

2017 is proving to be the comeback year for some of the titans in innovative children’s theatre. Pins and Needles’ adaptations of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas and The Bear are set to return in the winter, and – most exciting for me – Adventures in Wonderland will be playing all summer. This reimagining of the Lewis Carrol classic was cleverly constructed by Les Petits in The Vaults, under Waterloo Station, London.  When we saw its inaugural run in 2015, I came away thinking it was possibly the best children’s theatre I’d ever seen.

Adventures in Wonderland is an immersive children’s performance aimed at 5-10 year olds. It runs in tandem with an adult version, Alice’s Adventures Underground, staged in the evenings. The updated show was similar to the original 2015 version, where Samuel Wyer’s elaborate, detailed set added just the right note of fusty Victorian decadence. Our first port of call was a room resembling a scruffy junk shop, with heaps of books, painstakingly hand-written notes, stuffed animals and a centrepiece of sepia photos, pegged up on lines above trays of developing liquid. It was the sort of place you could explore for hours. But after a few minutes we heard a girl’s voice calling for help….and then the adventure unfolded.

Entrance to the show is timed, with each audience split down the middle, into red or black ‘cards’. Depending on your card team, you either have to sample the ‘drink me’ potion and shrink to fit through a tiny door, or eat a jellied sweet and grow into a giant. This sequence, overseen by a White Rabbit with a freakish furry head and twitching ears, was a clever, convincing optical illusion. From then on, the teams were led by Card Guards down fur-lined corridors, out into forests of giant mushrooms and through tunnels of books. Along the way we met a collection of Lewis Carrol’s famous characters, like Humpty Dumpty, and the Cheshire Cat. Finally, we ended up in a colossal room – the Vaults’ imposing arched ceiling put to good use – where the Mad Hatter held his grotesque tea party. We emerged, blinking, to sample flamingo croquet and cocktails served in jam jars.

Two years on, the team of Oliver Lansley, Anthony Spargo and Emma Earle had honed the performance to make it more child-focused than the original. There was a better balance of grotesque and whimsy. I still wouldn’t have taken my easily-spooked five year-old daughter into this Wonderland. For her, the dark corridors, off-kilter characters and eerie settings would have been too much. But my seven year-old son was infected with the infectious merriment of the actors, who seemed to have more fully embraced their inner children. The Queen of Hearts, “wasn’t as scary” this time around. Less shouty, BabyJane-esque drag act, more flirtatious take on Theresa May.

I did miss the original TweedleDum and TweedleDee. In 2015 they wore huge puppet heads and mischievously squirted the audience with water pistols. This time round, they were played as two stripey Welsh (!) sumo wrestlers, who proceeded to fight in a segment that went on for just a little too long. Otherwise, though, the production was perfectly paced, with none of the rushed feeling that came through in 2015.

Still the best performance for kids? I’d say so.

Adventures in Wonderland is at the Vaults, near Waterloo Station, London, until Sunday 3 September 2017. Tickets are £26.50 (adults), £15.50 (children) or £71 (four people: two adults, two children). We were given tickets for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.

If you’d like to find out more about family activities in London, visit our Ultimate Guide.

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30 Comments

  • Plutonium Sox
    May 23, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Oh this looks incredible, I will definitely be taking my eldest to it if we are in London over the summer. Love how interactive it sounds and that you have to drink the potion or the sweet.
    Nat.x

    Reply
  • Sarah Christie
    May 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Wow this look wonderful I think I would really enjoy this despite not being a child, stuff like this just brings out the child in you x

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 6, 2017 at 11:05 am

      It’s such a playful show!

      Reply
  • Donna Vallance
    July 7, 2017 at 9:23 am

    This looks Fantastic! the costumes look amazing! I might have to try this x

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 7, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      I’d be really interested to hear what you make of it, Donna – and your son. It’s very different to west end shows, but I do love the fact that children’s theatre is so diverse these days.

      Reply
  • Jenny
    July 7, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Oh I had high hopes of making it to London with my son this summer – and I really hope we still can, this looks like the kind of thing we would both love. Well who could resist flamingo croquet and jam jar cocktails, really!? #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 7, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      I know! Brilliant touches.

      Reply
  • Erin
    July 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    How fun! I used to work at Southbank Centre down the river from there. Glad to hear those vaults are being put to such creative use!
    #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      They have some fabulous events there.

      Reply
  • Lisa - FlipFlopGlobetrotters.com
    July 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    This sounds amazing! Our son is a bit too young, but I’d love to go myself LOL. I’ve never seen such cool and elaborate children’s theatre in The Netherlands. #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      This is pretty cutting edge, even for here in the UK! Thanks for linking up.

      Reply
  • naomi
    July 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    oh wow, for kids but um…. I want to go!!! those costumes look AMAZING. #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      I know. I loved it just as much as the children!

      Reply
  • Wherejogoes
    July 7, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    This sounds absolutely brilliant I love the interactive side of it. My daughters would love this and so would I – it sounds totally unique and to know it’s the best piece of children’s theatre you’ve seen is such a great recommendation. It looks visually stunning as well. Thanks for hosting #CulturedKids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      It was so well done, in every way.

      Reply
  • tots2travel
    July 7, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    I like the idea of splitting the audience into card colours. I’ve always founds Alice in Wonderland slightly eery so I appreciate where your daughter is coming from. #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Yes, she’s no a child that can easily put up with the uncanny.

      Reply
  • Jonny Orr
    July 9, 2017 at 8:24 am

    This looks lavish, whimsical and full of fantasy. I have at least a couple of kids who would be totally engrossed in a “performance” like this. Wonderful! #CulturedKids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      It would be amazing if you were able to see it some time, Jonny!

      Reply
  • Helena
    July 9, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    This looks like a truly entertaining event. I wonder whether they will still be running in years to come. #CulturedKids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      I’d like to hope so. This is the second run, because it was so successful the first time round.

      Reply
  • Annabel
    July 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Sounds amazing. We’ve just returned from a showing of the Scarecrows’ Wedding which my boys enjoyed. I can’t wait until they graduate onto stuff like this! #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      The Scarecrow’s Wedding was a great show. More my daughter’s cup of tea – but my son enjoyed it, too. And we were sitting next to Axel Scheffler in the audience!

      Reply
  • Elizabeth (Wander Mum)
    July 11, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    This sounds a wonderfully immersive experience! I’ll see if I can catch it this summer! #culturedkids

    Reply
  • Megan - Truly Madly kids
    July 12, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I saw this in 2015 too but the kids have yet to see it! Must try and see it over the summer! #cultirekids

    Reply
  • Oldhouseintheshires
    July 14, 2017 at 8:56 am

    Sounds great! How different. My teen would love this. Thank you for sharing. #culturedkids

    Reply
  • Emma Raphael
    July 14, 2017 at 11:56 am

    This sounds amazing, and the costumes look awesome. I know my older two would love it! 🙂

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

      I think it would be perfect for older children. A very clever production.

      Reply
  • Sarah Ebner
    July 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    This sounds brilliant. We are going to the adult one in a few weeks – can’t wait! I will report back (or Robert will…..)
    #culturedkids

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 21, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Ooh, I’ll be very interested to hear about that. I’m intrigued by the adult version – going to try and get along myself.

      Reply

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