It always had the potential to be big. A show that took audiences down the rabbit hole and immersed them in Wonderland seemed likely to do well. But no one could have predicted how successful Alice’s Adventures Underground would be when it first took over The Vaults in 2015.
Co-created by Oliver Lansley, it sold out its first run in the caverns beneath Waterloo station and even earned an Olivier Award nomination. Now it’s back, and the immersive production featuring a host of Lewis Carroll’s extraordinary characters is one of the most anticipated productions of 2017.
We talked to Lansley to discover more about the show, find out what’s new in Wonderland this year and learn why taking a chance is his top tip.
How would you describe Alice’s Adventures Underground?
It’s a truly immersive, narratively driven trip down the rabbit hole. You, as an audience member, become the protagonist of your own adventure in the weird and wild world of Wonderland.
There have been many Alice adaptations. Why did you want to do a new one and why for adults?
Alice In Wonderland is a hard story to adapt. The narrative is fragmented and nonlinear, it’s a series of sketches, part mathematical puzzle, part fever dream! The thing that stands out about the book is not necessarily the story but the world it creates. We felt the best way to bring the book to life would be to allow an audience to experience that world for themselves, as Alice did.
What does staging the show as an immersive production bring to the experience?
In my opinion everything. You get to BE Alice and have your own adventure in Wonderland, as opposed to having to watch at a distance through the eyes of another.
Is there an audience who would particularly enjoy this show?
We have literally had all sorts come and enjoy this show. I think the beauty of it is that you are the protagonist, so you relate to it in your own way. Your choices can also shape your experience. But I’d say for anyone that’s forgotten what it’s like to have an adventure and wants to escape and see the world a little differently, it’s perfect!
What has changed for this new production and has anything surprised you in restaging it?
We have so much more knowledge than we had the first time round, so we’ve been able to be much more ambitious this time. We’ve been able to revisit elements we felt we didn’t quite get perfect last time, and also add lots of exciting new surprises. What surprised us last time was actually how far we could push the audience and how much they wanted to be part of the world. So this year we’ve reworked it top to bottom, focusing very much on their experience.
What’s the relationship between Alice’s Adventures Underground and Adventures In Wonderland, and why did you also want to do a piece for younger audiences?
Alice is traditionally a story for kids, so we didn’t want to exclude them from coming to Wonderland. However, we didn’t want to water down the whole thing to make it fit across such a wide age range. This has allowed us to really create bespoke experiences for both audiences, focusing on creating the very best show for each one. It’s also extremely rare for a children’s show to have the scale and production values that this one does. We’ve managed to achieve it by sharing it with our adult show. So it’s pretty unique in that regard.
Apart from The Vaults, what’s your favourite London theatre?
That’s a very tough question. Theatres often become attached to certain favourite shows for me. I love the Old Vic. It’s so beautiful and I love the grandeur and the history of the place. I’ve never worked at the National and remember travelling up on my own as a teenager, obsessed with theatre, to watch shows there. So that has special memories for me, too.
What was your first experience of theatre?
It was probably being onstage as “Idiot Athlete Number 2” in a primary school adaptation of Theseus And The Minotaur. I got told off for showing off and making the audience laugh. Needless to say after that, I was hooked! Sam Wyer, the designer of Alice’s Adventures Underground, was also in that show with me!
Why is live theatre so special?
Because it can’t be captured and it can’t be repeated. It’s ethereal and unique. There are a million factors that everyone brings into the room at that moment. They create a shared moment which disappears as soon as it’s over. That’s never truer than with a show like Alice’s Adventures Underground as we have a huge cast of 38. They rotate parts every night so it’s almost impossible to have the same show twice!
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring theatremakers?
Very simple… “Make theatre.” Don’t let the limitations become excuses. Don’t become overwhelmed by the end point, or the details, or not being ready. Just start. Find a space, find some like-minded people and make stuff. That’s how you learn.
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
Take a chance. Take a risk on something you wouldn’t normally choose. It won’t always pay off but when it does you will be richly rewarded.