Alice: Lauren Cuthbertson
Jack/Knave of Hearts: Segei Polunin
Lewis Carroll/White Rabbit: Edward Watson
Queen of Hearts: Zenaida Yanowsky
King of Hearts: Christopher Saunders
Magican/Mad Hatter: Steven Mcrae
Caterpillar: Eric Underwood
Duchess: Simon Russell Beale
March Hare: Ricardo Cervera
Dormouse: James Wilkie
Cook: Kristen McNally
Frog Footman: Kenta Kura
Fish Footman: Ludovic Ondiviela
Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Music: Joby Talbot
Designs: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Natasha Kutz
Yes, I know that this is a very, very late review! Blame my constant disorganisedness (is that a legitimate word?); its been sitting patiently on my WP for a couple of weeks while I’ve been trying to locate the programme in the enormous piles of paper that constitute my life at the mome in order to complete the cast list and creative team sections. I haven't put in a synopsis because I'm sure that being a cultured and literary crowd, my readers are all familiar with the story!
On the face of it, Alice is a strange book to want to turn into a ballet (or indeed a film). Its extremely wordy, has very little plot to speak of, and apart from the opening and until the final chapters, lacks a real narrative thread, consisting almost entirely of brief, unconnected scenes which really wouldn’t suffer much if you shuffled them like a pack of cards and dealt them out in a different order. There is a multiplicity of characters who make brief appearances, not usually to return, and a lot of the book’s Edwardian charm lies in its wordplay – puns, anagrams, cultural references etc. Its not really until Alice finally reaches the Queen of Heart’s garden that things start falling into their proper places. It also requires a lot of “effects” – falling down rabbit holes, growing and shrinking etc., which are necessary to the story. So it’s quite a challenge to put on stage effectively – particularly when you are denied the medium of speech.
Mostly, it was handled very well – although often at the expense of dance. The Japanese lady I was sitting next too agreed with me in the interval that she would like to see more actual ballet content (although as it turned out there was to be plenty of this in the second act). Most of the first act was really rather like an expensively-staged “straight” show rather than ballet; the ROH technical crew were probably running round backstage like Mad March Hares. Fortunately, they seemed to be coping very well, although I am not sure that the Royal Ballet purists would really approve of so many back projections. I found myself thinking at a couple of points “look, lets get the “wow” stuff over and can we have some dancing, please?”. Some sections seemed overlong – the caucas race is dreary even in the book and would have benefited from being cut by about ½ (no dodo, I notice), but I noticed only one major omission in terms of scene and that was the Mock Turtle and Gryphon scene (I think this was a shame – it would have been lovely to have seen “The Lobster Quadrille” on stage!).
Another problem is the lack of a love interest for Alice – in the book she’s meant to be 8 or 9 or so. I felt that having Jack (the Gardener’s Boy in the prologue) turn into the Knave of Hearts really rather forced this issue into the story against its grain. It seemed a logical progression eventually, but did take rather a lot of getting used to. What I felt was completely unnecessary was the “resolution” – Edwardian Jack and Alice both appeared to have been dreaming (so that the story was effectively a dream within a dream) – they were really modern teenagers dozing on a bench outside the house which had been Alice’s in the story and which was now obviously some kind of National Trust-esque property with a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Shoppe” attached. This added an extra layer to the story and, very possibly, an extra layer of confusion.
I do wonder whether the Royal Ballet are going to get sucked into the “celebrity” vortex – I couldn’t see why Simon Russell Beale had been drafted in to play the Duchess other than the RB capitalising on his current “national treasure” status. Granted, its not really a major dancing role – SRB looked to be having to hoof with all of his puff at several points - but I’m sure that the RB could have brought in one of their “back catalogue” to play the role – possibly Monica Mason herself (Mason was a member of the company who never really rose above playing tiny roles such as various Fairies and “Friends-of-The-Heroine”; she went into administration (badly phrased - she didn't cease trading, just turned her hand to sorting out paperwork!)and is now the RB’s Director. She’s retiring soon and maybe this would have been a “farewell” role for her?).