Royal Ballet’s ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ – A Review

The Royal Ballet’s production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is getting another airing as part of the company’s 2013 Spring season. I went to see the performance on Thursday, which starred Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli and Ricardo Cervera but not, sadly, Stephen McRae who is still out of action. That was a disappointment as no one else can dance the Mad Hatter the way that he can, simply because none of the other members have his skill as a tap dance champion, which he was before turning to ballet. Alexander Campbell did a competent job, but I still hanker after McRae.

royal ballet alices adventures in wonderland review

      Sarah Lamb as Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland © Johan Persson/ROH 2011

The principals were in fine form. The mischievous, inquisitive role of Alice suits the mercurial Sarah Lamb, and the chemistry between her and her Jack of Hearts, Federico Bonelli, worked well. Though I did sometimes wish she was allowed the odd offstage break – Alice must be the longest continuous appearance for a ballet heroine ever. But Lamb ate the role for breakfast, even having enough energy left for a footballer-style victory slide at the curtain calls. Bonelli was charming and romantic as Jack but inevitably had much less to do than his partner. Cervera’s white rabbit was lovably cheeky and managed the incessant passing around of the plate of tarts with reassuring confidence.

It’s almost become a truism to say that Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland gets better every year, and there’s no doubt that breaking the original overlong first act into two is a massive improvement. But I still find the shortened first act, with its roller-coaster succession of changing scenes and bizarrely-costumed dancers quite exhausting, while the horrific pig-baby and sausages  made me yearn for a sofa to hide behind. But the second act, beginning with the Cheshire Cat assembling itself from its component parts and going on to the exotic attractions of Eric Underwood’s Caterpillar and the colour, vitality and sheer joie de vivre of the classical set piece that results from Alice eating the mushroom, is wonderful.

There’s plenty of variety in the third act, but it’s the flamingoes (tall elegant girls with beady-eyed flamingo heads on upstretched arms) and hedgehogs (children in spiky costumes doing forward rolls) that get my vote for most fun choreography. Zenaida Yanowsky got the broad comedy role of the Queen of Hearts the night I was there. It’s a bit reminiscent of the all-male prima-donna troupe Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo but none the worst for that. Yanowsky out-Troc-ed the Trocs to much acclaim. Thank goodness for the calm of the final scene where a modern Jack and Alice encounter the white rabbit again and the book of Alice is opened once again.

The current production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland at the Royal Opera House is sold out, but it’s always worth checking for returns and day tickets just in case. If you can’t secure tickets there will be a live cinema relay showing at several venues on 18th March.