How many of us actually remember the storyline of Alice in Wonderland? For that matter, how many of us even managed to reach the end of the book when we were small children? Familiarity with the storyline certainly helps when watching Christopher Wheeldon's adaptation, given how little sense Lewis Carroll's novel has to start off with. But first and foremost, the Royal Ballet's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a spectacle rather than a ballet: so much attention to detail has been lavished on the sets, costumes and digital artwork that the choreography appears meagre and uninspired by comparison. For people seeking a spectacle, this won't matter - but those seeking a spectacle with Great Dance will be left disappointed.
The dance-storytelling of Alice is at its strongest in the opening scenes of Act 1, where we see Alice's family preparing for lunch with Alice and her sisters playing games, Lauren Cuthbertson's Alice flirting with Federico Bonelli's Jack, and Edward Watson's Lewis Carroll consoling and distracting her after Bonelli is fired by her mother. After Alice is tugged through the rabbit hole by a desperate Edward Watson, the visual aspects of the piece take over, and the choreography is mostly delegated to depicting Alice's journey, through bourées and arabesques, and to fleshing out the endless outlandish and vivid characters which she encounters over the next two hours.
And the length is another issue with Alice; this version of Alice was extended to provide the storyline with more cohesion and to increase its family-friendliness, however it should also have faced some ruthless editing to remove a number of scenes and reduce the length of others in order to tighten up the narrative - and not lose the attention of the children in the audience!
The funniest scene is probably Wheeldon's spoof of Sleeping Beauty's Rose Adagio, performed by Laura Morera as the terrifying Queen of Hearts, partnered by four very scared cards in fear for their lives - resulting in several undignified mishaps. The sad little hedgehogs were easily the best of the animals, running for their little lives to avoid being used for bowling with flamingos. Kristen McNally, clutching a meat cleaver, proved yet again that she is always a scene-stealer while other vividly memorable characters were Steven McRae's tap dancing Mad Hatter, Edward Watson's anxious White Rabbit - and, of course, Lauren Cuthbertson's delightful Alice.
There was too little variety in much of the choreography, not helped by the choreography being predominantly classical in style. Nevertheless, weak choreography aside, this is very much a 21st-century Alice, with impressive use of projection and sets to capture audiences' imagination. And don't go expecting the Alice of the childhood novel: Wheeldon's Alice is about the burgeoning relationship between Alice and Jack, and the Wonderland scenes are Alice's attempts to find and redeem him.