March 20, 2012 5:17 pm

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Opera House, London

Fine performances cannot disguise a flawed concept

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a flag of convenience under which a boisterous misrepresentation of a masterpiece has sailed into Covent Garden. A large cast is identified as characters from Lewis Carroll’s tale, and there the connection really ends. What we see is Christopher Wheeldon’s oh-so-vivacious choreography bustling about the stage against a dazzling series of decorative coups de théâtre by Bob Crowley that make real the bizarre locations in which Alice finds herself, while a score by Joby Talbot, not one whit less brash than the dances, generates a dramatic fuss. (We hoped for Glazunov, he gives us Tom and Jerry.)

I was less than enraptured by this blatant affair at its creation last year. In its current revival certain changes have been made – significantly in splitting an interminable first act into two – but the sum effect is still of blazing misconceptions in supposing that such a narrative can admit of translation into movement. Carroll’s verbal conceits, the Victorian social attitudes that clothe surreal fantasy, the central image of a little girl having a Senior Wrangler’s assurance – all these have no dance identity, and Alice herself is aged by 10 years to become a pubescent heroine.

Wheeldon provides caricatures and distortions of beings who are already caricatures and distortions, and save for the Cheshire Cat (which is Crowley’s marvel), incident and character are made garish in dance as lurid as it is unlikely. What, one must wonder, is the justification for producing an obviously expensive staging that serves only to traduce a great work of childhood literature?

On Monday night the cast was led by Sarah Lamb, a delightful Alice who brings charm and sweetness to her role, with Steven McRae brilliant as the Knave of Hearts (though his costume believes he is Quasimodo). I thought Ricardo Cervera a splendidly fussy White Rabbit, and Gary Avis gave the Duchess a vicious bravura. But for all the unflagging energies, physical and emotional, that its cast brings to the choreography, this is a game of “keep it moving and they won’t see the holes”. And the holes – the coarse score, the blustering, false drama – are too large to disguise.

2 stars

www.roh.org.uk

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