Alice’s Adventures Under Ground at the Royal Opera House is as mad as a box of frogs. The much-loved children’s tale of delicious nonsense has been condensed into a 55-minute rollercoaster of an opera, written by Irish composer Gerald Barry and directed and designed by Antony McDonald. Anything is possible during this topsy-turvy muchness of a production which is the perfect way to introduce the family to opera and to a night out at the Royal Opera House.
It might be short, but it packs a psychedelic punch. The talented cast morph from one character to another in the blink of a hookah puff with most of them taking on nine or more roles. The Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, the Red and White Queen, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are all there (although poor Cheshire Cat looks like he’s been petrified into a state of rigor mortis).
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is an operatic riot with musical highs and tongue-twisting riddling which will leave you a tad breathless. There’s a cookery lesson on how to make tarts, a croquet masterclass performed with pink musical stands in lieu of inverted flamingos, and a speedy walk through the Wood of No Names. The craziness continues with the Jabberwocky poem, recited in Russian, French and German and set to It’s a Long way to Tipperary.
British soprano Jennifer France takes the lead as Alice who managed to belt out 98 top Cs, 40 of which were in the first minute (ouch!) Mad hats off to Thomas Adés and his baton in the underground pit. The superb cast including Allison Cook at the Red Queen, Carole Wilson as the White Queen and Nicky Spence as the Mad Hatter, all deserve thunderous applause. And a special mention goes to Alan Ewing’s Humpty Dumpty, who gives us a well-deserved breather from the full-throttle frenzy for a mathematical lesson on how to add and subtract set to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Adults will need to re-boot their imagination for this ludic mini-opera, but I can tell by looking at the audience that the young ones get this madcap straight away. My 12-year-old Anais (a budding set designer) is particularly in awe of McDonald’s eye-popping costume design.
A night out for kids through Alice’s opera glass is a fine thing indeed, so here’s hoping the Royal Opera House brings this production back soon for a raspberry cream-filled encore. This is a tea party I’d like to come back to again.
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is on at the Royal Opera House until Sunday 9 February. Tickets from £3. The opera lasts 55 minutes, and there is no interval. You can grab some tickets here.
I was a guest of the Royal Opera House. All curioser opinions my own.
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