Alice’s Adventures Underground has been successfully entertaining the masses in London this summer as an immersive theatrical experience that takes you through the tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Philippa Hogg is part of the production, taking on a different role every night. “Immersive theatre basically means that the audience are part of the action,” she told me. “As opposed to a normal theatre production where you might sit down and watch it from a distance, or even a promenade piece where you stand and walk around watching things from a distance, with our show you enter into it and you travel around with the actors, being sent on missions and little tasks as you travel around the space.”
When your first arrive, you tumble down the rabbit hole and enter into a different world. Given the choice of either Drink Me or Eat Me, you embark on a journey of the unexpected. “It is like going on a big adventure but as opposed to other immersive theatre experiences, the company Les Enfants really tried to have a focus on narrative and story. So you meet the characters but you’re also very much a part of the story, so instead of viewing what happens to Alice you’re actually on your own adventure as Alice yourself, and you’re part of the narrative,” Philippa explained.
With the sudden rise of immersive theatre experiences, like the most recent Moulin Rouge themed Secret Cinema, people are flocking to this innovative and creative form of entertainment. “In terms of the immersive nature of it, you know when you have people in your group who are really up for it, and you then also can recognise if you have a group who are not quite sure what they are in for,” she said. “So as actors we just have to adjust our tone slightly, some people maybe don’t know fully what they’ve got themselves in for, for example sometimes they don’t even realise that they can speak back to an actor. But it’s really lovely then when you see a change in audiences who may have been quite fearful when they came in, and then by the end they are really living and breathing it.”
It’s a completely different form of theatre, as quite literally anything can happen, making it rather tricky to rehearse. “It’s a complicated process,” Philippa told me. “There are 38 of us in the cast, so that alone in a rehearsal room is crazy. So we are all in different teams, and basically, each character has got a team of about 4 or 5 actors and each of those actors play about five characters.” Philippa is on team Alice, she said: “There is something a little bit different with our Alice. The show is actually set many years after she has fallen down the rabbit hole, and at this point, Wonderland is in a bit of a state of disrepair, so the queen has become obsessed with order, sense and being sensible.”
The production is set whilst there is a bit of an uprising happening, and a revolution where people are trying to bring back nonsense. The queen has banned Alice because she is full of nonsense, and she has trapped her in a looking-glass for hundreds of years. “Alice has stayed a little girl, but gone a bit mad, because she has been on her own in a looking-glass for years. One of the first times a group interact with Alice is her first time seeing people in a really long time,” she said.
In rehearsals, the groups worked through each section and little moment in the show, before trying to pull it all together in the space. Set inside The Vaults in London, they had a good few days learning their way around it all, as it is such a huge part of the story. “There is a thing called time code, which is essentially running from the word go, and it’s the lighting and sound cues for the entire space. So at quarter to six every night, time code starts, and in each room and each space in Wonderland there are different lighting cues and sound cues which tell the actors when people need to leave the space.”
“In a way, it’s a huge mathematical machine.”
Phillipa explained that it is the audience that make it such a fantastic experience as an actor. “It’s completely different every night and I think that as an actor that’s actually quite a privilege because often one of our biggest difficulties is to maintain a freshness when you’re repeating the same show over and over.” It is her first experience working in immersive theatre, and she gushes that she relishes in it every night. “The groups that we get into Alice can vary between a family visiting London from Manchester who just want to do something a bit different, or it can be Alice fanatics – people who really know the story,” she said.
“I was just really curious to be part of something that was exploring a tale that I loved in a really unusual and really ambitious way.”
Experiencing it myself in a few weeks, I have no idea what to expect. I asked Philippa what advice she would give to a new audience member, and she said: “I’d say you just need to be open to anything, but to always keep your ears open and listen to what you’re being told as well. Some people get so excited to get immersed, that they might miss a vital piece of information, which means that they get confused. So because it is a story based thing, I’d say definitely involve yourself and be ready to join in and have fun!”
Details and information for Alice Underground can be found on their website.
Photography by Rah Petherbridge.