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Stuart King

Review: ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDER GROUND at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Alice's Adventures Under Ground - © ROH 2020. Photo by Clive Barda (Featuring Claudia Boyle as Alice) Composer and librettist Gerald Barry, has concocted a surrealist world using as its basis, an amalgamation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. The result is a riotous, fast-paced, fantastically energetic, kaleidoscopic Wonderland, for all ages, (though perhaps not all ears)!

At barely an hour in length, there is not the slightest chance that boredom might gain a foothold in a production where Antony McDonald’s design and direction ensures that each of the well-beloved characters, are afforded their moment in the spotlight as they appear and disappear at a cracking pace, adorned - as you’d expect - in extraordinarily outlandish costumes.

The sheer Python-meets-Becket-meets-Victoriana weirdness is consistent and unabated throughout. This is perhaps best exemplified when the entire cast (most of whom play multiple characters), line-up to give us the Jabberwocky Nonsense Poem which is sung in Russian, to the tune of “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”! Other stranger than strange moments include the croquet scene where, readers of the books will recall, flamingos are used to strike the balls which in Lewis Carroll’s imagining, have morphed into hedgehogs. Here, the furry hedgehogs remain, but pink-sprayed inverted music stands, serve as skeletal flamingo-esque mallets. A nod perhaps to the musicality and theatrical inventiveness required to make this a hit.

The piece was first performed in LA back in 2016 as a concert version, but although the music could broadly be described as discordant and tricksy, the cast in this first, fully staged production, managed gamely to deliver the notes on opening night under the confident and ever-assured baton of Thomas Adès.

Alice (Claudia Boyle, who will alternate the role with Jennifer France) spent most of the performance ably belting stratospheric notes. Other notable stand-out contributions came from Clare Presland as The Red Queenand the Welsh lyric tenor Sam Furness as The White King and Mad Hatter.

It might not appeal to the traditionalists, but the brave parents who brought their kids, were rewarded with an hour of mesmerised and largely silent, awe. You could see the bliss writ large on their faces as the lights came up. “If you have money, it’s money well-spent”, this reviewer imagined them thinking to themselves.