I predict that Christopher Wheeldon’s triumphant production of Lewis Carroll’s immortal classic will become the must-see ballet for children and adults alike. As a full-length narrative ballet – the first commissioned by the Royal Ballet in sixteen years – it is a cogent and immensely entertaining work. As a feat of engineering design, it is out of this world.
And Debra Craine in The Times agrees:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with jolly choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and stunning music by Joby Talbot, is a spectacular family entertainment brought to life with enormous theatrical verve.
Not all are so confident. Ismene Brown for The Arts Desk writes:
The first act is a diarrhoeic 70 minutes – even MacMillan’s toughest dramas drew stumps at 45 minutes per act.
Zoe Anderson in The Independent liked the production elements:
The Royal Ballet’s new Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is big and glossy, sharp in execution as the Queen of Hearts’ axe. For much of its length, it’s a show more than a ballet. Christopher Wheeldon’s fluent choreography sometimes has to fight for attention with the wit of designs and staging, helped by Joby Talbot’s exuberant score.
But points out the difficultly in adapting Lewis Carroll’s classic:
[Wheeldon’s] chosen a tricky subject: this story isn’t obviously danceable. The self-possessed child heroine falls down a rabbit hole, meets curious creatures and wakes up. Much of the point is in the language: puns, riddles, invented words.
Judith Mackrell in The Guardian concentrates on the choreography:
If the ballet has a flaw it’s an over long first act, in which the comedy and drama feel too sporadic.
But the second act steps into a dizzying higher gear and overall this is, by miles, the most successful Alice ballet I’ve seen. Bob Crowley’s designs have a hallucinatory ingenuity, mixing hi-tech projection with puppetry and masks. And the visual invention is matched by Wheeldon’s choreography.
Stylistically this is full of surprises: a tap dancing Mad Hatter, a preposterous Rose Adagio for the Queen of Hearts (with jam tarts) and the genius casting of Simon Russell Beale as the Duchess (right), dancing and acting a comic storm over her Hell’s Kitchen of a sausage factory.
But the straight dancing is equally excellent – ranging from rosy, tender, love duets to a thrilling neoclassical ensemble for the deck of cards.
Required to range from the hoydenish to the blithe, she rises to it with a performance that is alert, funny and deliciously un-twee.
Neil Norman is in full agreement:
The real magic is on the stage, centred around Lauren Cuthbertson’s sublime Alice – all little girl flirtiness to begin with gradually deciphering the woman who is beginning to burst through the child.
Zoe Anderson praises the rest of the cast,
Actor Simon Russell Beale dances the Duchess. It should be glorious casting, but even he has to push for attention against the whirl of the staging. (He makes more of an impact as a party guest in the first scene, alarming in a bonnet.) Steven McRae’s Mad Hatter tap dances valiantly, but his personality is muted by so much costuming.
Wheeldon has fun with Busby Berkeleyish corps dances, and makes elegant duets for Alice and Jack, now transformed into the Knave of Hearts. Sergei Polunin’s Jack soars effortlessly into his steps. Talbot lets rip with music for a playing card ballet; the choreography is too polite to keep up. In dance terms, the show is stolen by the Queen of Hearts, the monstrous dream version of Alice’s mother. Zenaida Yanowsky stalks through a parody of The Sleeping Beauty’s Rose Adage, partnered by cavaliers who are terrified they’re going to be beheaded. She shimmies triumphantly, seductive and hilarious.
Debra Craine thinks likewise:
Lauren Cuthbertson in the title role is a natural. Both girl and woman, she is the sweet energy that makes us care from beginning to end. Sergei Polunin is a most handsome Jack and Edward Watson a touching White Rabbit.
Russell Beale has the time of his life raging around the stage as the monstrous Duchess, his body fluttering like a deranged butterfly. But no one is a match for Zenaida Yanowsky’s sensational Queen of Hearts, who is little short of demonic.
Ismene Brown who gives a firm thumbs-down acknowledges the overall success. But asks herslf why.
… Almost the entire audience [was] standing on its feet cheering at the end, while I sat trying to work out why. Is it that they can see where all the money’s been spent? Is it a relief that it’s not abstract and that the music isn’t difficult and they’re allowed to laugh? Is this the future of privately funded ballet – every penny solidly visible in known knowns, and none in unknown unknowns?
Judith Mackrell was one of those on her feet applauding,
This Alice looks set to become a classic.
Photographs © Charlotte MacMillan