Alice's Adventures Underground Is Opera For The Entire Family

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, ROH ★★★★☆

By Mike C

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Alice's Adventures Underground Is Opera For The Entire Family Alice's Adventures Under Ground, ROH 4
Photo: Clive Barda © ROH 2020

It's opera for a family audience as we open with the White Rabbit (Sam Furness), lazy, carrot-chomping, akimbo on a chair, leaping up to his outsize timepiece. Claudia Boyle is visually and sonically striking, her ginger hair vibrant as Alice's descent down, down the rabbit hole begins cinematically, with back-projected objects falling upwards behind her as she struggles, wearing what appears to be an inverted laundry basket over her crinolines, shrieking demented arpeggios and broken chords.

Spiralling gloriously, and energetically mad, Barry's operetta underlines the disjointed, non-linear nature of Carroll's children's classic, abandoning even the novel's slender narrative thread for a series of vignettes which mix the darkly campy and the plain bizarre. Take the cook and baby scene for example, where four ginormous infant bonces rise out of the stage, wow wow wowing along; or Hilary Summers's dormouse, who seems to be channelling a demented Eurovision drag queen.

Photo: Clive Barda © ROH, 2020

Antony McDonald's staging with glorious jarring colour and alarmingly gloomy shadows lends credence to it all as a mad and particularly vivid dreamscape. Perhaps Alice ate some cheese before nodding off. She comes across as that kind of daring girl, a spunky Dahlesque heroine.

Alice is a good place for a kid to start with opera — it's short, accessible, attention-grabbing and funny. The weirder scenes will appeal to slightly older children whilst the cute whimsy of the furrier characters should draw in the tots. There's enough of a nod to adults with some knowing business to make it a sort of posh panto — though without the plague of reality TV has-beens you get at the end of the pier. And better orchestration. In a cavalcade of the bizarre it's well-nigh impossible to pick out the best moment, but for sheer richness and oddball pageantry — not to mention some bonkers tunes — Alice underground has a cult appeal of its own.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD, £3-£60, Until 9 February

Last Updated 05 February 2020