Sunday, 28 December 2014

Chapter 55: Adventures in Wonderland

"I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I've changed several times since then."
- Alice

Photo: Tommy Franzen as Ernest, Lizzy Gough as Alice
Courtesy of

"Man, those guys are crazy" said my nine year old son "When can we go and see them again?" He was referring to ZooNation and Kate Prince's hip-hop production of The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the Royal Opera House, where "nonsense makes more sense than sense". 

This was our Christmas treat, following straight on from our annual pilgrimage to the Winter Wonderland of Somerset House, where my son and I had been skating hand-in-hand with my husband and six year old daughter round the rink. We were pretty high already. 

We'd never been to the Linbury Studio before. It's in the depths of the Opera House and as you descend the stairs there is a sense of discovering a whole new world underside. In the foyer, tables were set for tea, a trail of riddles decorated the walls, and an assortment of crazy hats hung by an empty frame, inviting funny photos. 

We took our seats and saw in the centre a model of a gothic mansion, with an air of mystery hanging around it. It made me think of the model of Hogwarts we had seen in a trip to the Harry Potter Studios recently. Not in design, but in the expectation that something extraordinary was about to happen. And it did. But you don't need to take my word for it - thanks to the recording of the live stream you can now see the *entire show* here, from around 34 minutes in:

To give you a brief overview of the story, this mansion in the North of England houses a correctional facility where a young, serious, Germanic, bespectacled psychotherapist called Ernest arrives and a whole host of characters who claim to hail from Wonderland are handed over into his care. As he examines each of his cases in turn, he is gradually drawn into their alternative space,  curiouser and curiouser, and irrevocably into Wonderland itself. Aren't we all?!

I loved this production on so many levels and Time Out describes it so well - click here for review. I saw circus inflections in the touches of tumbling, the juggling of rattles and tea-ware, and the choreographed clowning around - there were even a few pies floating around! The dancers and the band were spectacular. Vibrant, engaging, astonishing, flipping brilliant - even my six year old sat open-mouthed and enchanted the whole way through. Afterwards though, she was pretty vocal. And here's the thing: provide the right environment for children to release their imagination and see their story-telling soar.

Watching the production there was also a growing sense that maybe the different characters are all facets of our own personalities at different times - all together at once would be simply psychotic, after all. For instance, I'm the White Rabbit when relentlessly harried by the clock on the school run in term-time, the Red Queen on days when I've over-dosed on caffeine (and I want her flamingo umbrella!), the Cheshire Cat after Christmas lunch, especially when tickled behind the ear, and have already identified with Alice through the Looking Glass on these circus adventures - see post "Why a Circus Blog?". Above all, though, I feel a certain empathy with Ernest, taking time-out for a cuppa, and opening our mind to unfamiliar possibilities, even if others think we are Mad as a Hatter in the process. 

So, there you go. From a Wilde Evening in the previous post to The Importance of Being Ernest at Tea-Time. Chin-chin.

Photo: Isaac Baptiste as the Mad Hatter
Courtesy of

Note: There are so many wonderful theatre and circus spaces engaging children's story-telling. Here, though, I would like to make special mention of my very first ice-guide at Somerset House, Rosie Hudson, aka Rosie Tells Tales - check out her Wonderland at

Postscript: Zoo Nation is back 30 December 2016 - 22 January 2017 at The Roundhouse. See: - click here.


  1. I also saw an Alice In Wonderland show at the Royal Opera House this winter - from my local cinema in Dudley! The phenomenal Royal Ballet production, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who I keep meaning to look up!) was broadcast live, and it's the first time I've ever been to the pictures for a live screening. In the intervals, they fill in with backstage interviews (never let Darcey Bussell near a microphone lol), and in one clip they showed a dance off between the Mad Hatters from each show!

    I've also been reading fantastic Alice inspired book that I got given for Christmas after bumping it up my wish-list - The madness of Quantum Physics explained through the familiar fantasy of Wonderland!

    Happy New Year :)

  2. Curiouser and curiouser, will def. be checking out Alice in Quantumland!

    Would have loved to have seen Alice in Wonderland, but can only find 2012 recording on Youtube. Did see the crazy dance off between the two Mad Hatters: How did you find the experience overall? Found even on a laptop it worked really well watching Zoonation. The only thing for me was that I couldn't check out the band at the same time, which I missed, they were fab!

    Happy New Year :-)


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