It’s unusual. I know full well that as a child I had a well thumbed, well loved, slightly tatty paperback copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For the life of me, I have no idea what has happened to this particular copy. I now own two copies: one in a hefty hardback tome of the complete works of Lewis Carroll (a present from a godparent that resides at my parents’) and one in a navy blue, ‘cushion bound’ edition along with Through the Looking Glass which was a birthday present from my brother some years ago (I have Pride and Prej in a similar binding). I’ve read other copies of Alice, but mostly I am mystified as to what happened to my original paperback – I can only assume it got charity shopped or passed on with the advent of the complete works tome. Mind you, for a book I know was well loved I can recall remarkably little of it (although I am oft wont to channel the Red Queen at work, periodically yelling ‘orf with their head’ when someone has irked me).
With all this in mind, I was super excited last season when it transpired that Christopher Wheeldon’s new full length commission for the Royal Ballet was going to be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In fairness, a new full length commission was a big deal in the first instance (the Company’s first in fifteen years) without it being Alice – cakes, icing etc (irony: there is actually a giant bouncy sponge cake featured in the ballet). It also has the rare honour of being one of the few ballets I’ve watched on TV as well as live in the theatre – my attention span doesn’t stand much up to watching ballet away from the theatre, I’m easily distracted – when it was broadcast on Christmas Day last year because that was where my mother’s channel hopping settled.
It was, therefore, somewhat pleasing to see it back in rep this season (with some additional tweaks and an extra interval). Having seen Lauren Cuthbertson’s dazzling Alice last season, I opted for a different cast this time seduced by the prospect of Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather. Injury kept them away from me and I found myself with Beatriz Stix-Brunel and Nehemiah Kish in the lead roles. Did I mind? Most certainly not. In as much as the ballet is predominantly about Alice, it’s also very much an ensemble piece showcasing everyone. That said, the cast change meant I was going in with few preconceptions.
There’s a slightly ‘episodic’ feel to the ballet with Wheeldon trying to keep true to the book and make sure everything gets shoehorned in somehow – the benevolent White Rabbit, the slightly crazed Mad Hatter and his tea party, a disembodied Cheshire Cat. But that doesn’t detract from its general overall likeability factor. Overall it’s enjoyable, the visual effects are stunning and the sets and costumes are amazing.
Stix-Brunel’s Alice is charming throwing herself at the role with gusto, a whirlwind of emotion couple with a megawatt smile. Kish’s Knave of Hearts is a little more sedate in comparison, solid and capable in the background but perhaps missing the cheekier, boyish charm I always felt the Knave had. Laura Morera’s Red Queen strikes the perfect hilariously evil balance and there’s something oddly endearing in her take off of the Rose Adagio. Gary Avis’ Duchess is delicious, no other term for it, and Ricardo Cevera’s White Rabbit does a sterling job of seemingly being everywhere all at once. But perhaps, for me at least, nothing can beat Kristen McNally’s cook – crazed, manic, whirling arms and legs AND all this whilst wielding a cleaver to boot. I truly don’t believe there is a more beautiful moment in any ballet than the point at which she covets the Executioner’s axe. But really the problem I kept finding was – so much talent on stage, all being so brilliant, mostly I wanted to look everywhere ALL AT ONCE.
Overall, Alice is charming, you can’t deny that. It might have a few holes here and there but it’s jolly good fun.
[images via the google machine, click to original source]