Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2012

In the world of dreams real people can take on strange identities, and so it is here. It all starts at tea in a large garden, where Alice’s mother ejects her daughter’s beloved Jack, the gardener’s son.

Alice, all images Johan Persson

To distract the disappointed Alice, Lewis Carroll conjures up a large hole in the ground and disappears down it, growing a bunny tail and long ears. He has become the white rabbit, encouraging Alice to follow him down the hole. We see a video projection as she floats down, landing up in front of an array of doors. Shrinking and growing she tries to squeeze through a small door, and suddenly the auditorium fills with colourful performers, bright confetti raining down on them from the dome above. The effects are wonderful, and while Lewis Carroll has become the white rabbit, Alice’s father and mother turn into the King and Queen of Hearts, with Jack as the Knave, accused of stealing the tarts, and appearing in court. But was it Jack, or was it the vicar, who becomes the March Hare? Other people from the garden party appear too: the magician who arrives to entertain them becomes the Mad Hatter, and the Rajah who arrives with his retinue becomes the Caterpillar.

In an entirely different development, this revival has converted the two acts of the world premiere a year ago — see my review at the time — into three acts, a welcome change.

Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter

On opening night this time around, Lauren Cuthbertson repeated her wonderful performance of Alice, and Federico Bonelli did well in the role of Jack, taking over from Sergei Polunin who has vanished from the scene. Once again Edward Watson was very fine as Lewis Carroll and the White Rabbit, and Eric Underwood was a super Caterpiller. Laura Morera was a strong Queen of Hearts, but Philip Mosley lacked stage presence as the Duchess, particularly compared to Simon Russell Beale last year. As for the Mad Hatter, Steven McRae was superb again, his tap dancing utterly brilliant.

Joby Talbot’s music, conducted again by Barry Wordsworth, provides just the right atmosphere, giving a hot summery feel to the garden party in Act I, and I like the allusions to the Rose Adagio in Sleeping Beauty, and the clock scene in Cinderella. Bob Crowley’s designs are glorious, beautifully lit by Natasha Katz, and the scenario by Nicholas Wright brings Lewis Carroll’s story very cleverly to the ballet stage. The dream becomes real, but in the end Alice falls back into the real world, returning to the garden party with Jack, and the dream seems to have done the trick.

Performances continue until April 16 — for details click here.

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