The Secret Keeper | Review

★★☆☆☆  National Theatre Studio,  Ovalhouse

The Secret Keeper promises mystical mystery but only delivers cringy songs and confusing themes.

The Secret Keeper - production image 1 - Angela Clerkin (photo by Sheila Burnett)
Angela Clerkin| Sheila Burnett

In a fairytale village the daughter of the Dollhouse maker has a ‘gift’. She helps her father by keeping his deepest and darkest secret which changes him. He tells everyone to share their most intimate secrets with her to feel better. But what happens when one girl knows all the secrets in the village, including who killed her uncle?

Going into the theatre the atmosphere is eerie and promises a night of gothic and mysterious tales. However, that is only partly the case. The show switches between styles, which is confusing and lowers the quality of the production.

The Secret Keeper - production image 4 - L-R Niall Ashdown _ Angela Clerkin (photo by Sheila Burnett)
Niall Ashdown and Angela Clerkin | Sheila Burnett

It starts out feeling like a fairytale and the audience expects to watch a gothic style play, but then the style suddenly switches to a much more modern tone. This ruins the illusion and rips the viewer out of the story. The constant switches make it difficult to get lost in the play.

Things happen that don’t need to happen as they don’t help to tell the story and move it along, such as spontaneous singing.

The Secret Keeper - production image 6 - L-R Anne Odeke _ Niall Ashdown (photo by Sheila Burnett)
Anne Odeke and Niall Ashdown | Sheila Burnett

The spontaneous songs might be fun in a different, more modern setting, but with the fairtytale-like setting they seem silly and unnecessary.

Parts of the production were confusing, such as the gathering of the secrets. It wasn’t needed for the development of the story as the Good Daughter already showed that she was struggling to keep the secrets in.

Overall, the intentions of the production were good with a great storyline. The premise is intriguing but the execution of the production thoroughly disappoints.

The Secret Keeper runs at Ovalhouse until 21st October

All the Little Lights | Review

★★★★★ Fifth Word, Arcola Theatre

Jane Upton’s ever so important and powerful play is heart-breaking, thought-provoking and cannot be missed.

Esther-Grace Button & Tessie Orange-Turner in ALL THE LITTLE LIGHTS by Jane Upton - credit Robert Day
Esther-Grace Button and Tessie Orange-Turner |Robert Day
In the midst of rubbish, wrappers, empty bottles and fallen autumn leaves just off the railway tracks, three young girls are celebrating a birthday. Joanne and Lisa reunite, while Amy wants to belong. Lisa got out, but now she’s back and their past is haunting her. Where alcohol abuse is celebrated, a life threatening game where entertainment and violence is normal. In a society where the forgotten just want to belong and predators lurk around the corner. When does the victim become the villain?

Tessie Orange-Turner & Sarah Hoare in ALL THE LITTLE LIGHTS by Jane Upton - credit Robert Day
Tessie Orange-Turner and Sarah Hoare | Robert Day
The play makes several important points. No one cares about children without a family, how easy it is to turn villain after being the victim and the horrendous, long-lasting effects of sexual abuse.

In times where you can’t flick on the news without men getting away with saying things like “grab them by the pussy” and making it seem normal, and Harvey Weinstein who uses his powerful position to sexually assault women, this play needs to be seen. It needs to be seen now.

People need to be made to feel uncomfortable, their hearts need to break for the girls and what they’ve had to go through.

Tessie Orange-Turner & Sarah Hoare in ALL THE LITTLE LIGHTS by Jane Upton - credit Robert Day
Tessie Orange-Turner and Sarah Hoare | Robert Day
All three leading ladies, Esther-Grace Button, Sarah Hoare and Tessie Orange-Turner are remarkable. It cannot be easy to convey three forgotten and vulnerable teenage girls, who all have had horrible things happen to them, but Button, Hoare and Orange-Turner take the audience on a dark journey through unimaginable experiences.

Jane Upton’s script, directed by Laura Ford is simple, touching and shocking that will have the audience holding their breaths.

All The Little Lights runs at the Arcola Theatre until 4th November.

Flood | Review

★★★★★ Paper Creatures Theatre, Tristan Bates Theatre

Flood is a flawless debut production for Paper Creature Theatre and another hit for Tom Hartwell.

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Emily Céline Thomson (Jess), Nathan Coenen (Michael), Jon Tozzi (Adam) and Tom Hartwell (Ben) | @HeadshotToby

While his village is flooding, Adam feels like he’s drowning with it. His mother has just died and all his friends have moved away, closer to the capitol. Everyone is moving on with their new lives, millennials leaving the village in search for a better future. Adam  feels abandoned by his friends and sister. When his friends return to the village for the funeral, secrets are uncovered.

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Jon Tozzi (Adam) | @HeadshotToby

Playwright Tom Hartwell creates a wonderfully slick and heartfelt play that flows from scene to scene with characters that feel natural. The comedy drama deals with millennial themes such as how our culture is dominated by viral videos, occupied by the constant use of social media and how it’s made us lazy when it comes to social interactions. As well as all this, the play also touches on how millennials deal with loss and bereavement.

We find ourselves sending condolence messages and birthday wishes over social media which have just as much meaning as poking someone on Facebook. Hartwell seems to be able to tell relatable stories about different aspects and hurdles of millennials’ lives and finds the right tempo and tone with ease, by creating characters that are relatable and real.

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Tom Hartwell (Ben) and Molly McGeachin (Laura) |@HeadshotToby

Adam (Jon Tozzi) and Michael (Nathan Coenen) compliment each other well and have a fun character dynamic. Jess (Emily Céline Thomson) brings a slightly more mature note to the play with her  relationship with Michael that is moving forward and developing through the play. Overall, the chemistry between the actors aids the brilliant direction by Georgie Straight.

From the set that looks like floating furniture in a flooded basement, to the swift and creative scene changes, everything in this play works together perfectly and turns this debut production into a must-see for Paper Creatures Theatre.

Flood runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe until 5 August.

Disco Pigs | Review

★★★★☆ Tara Finney Productions, Trafalgar Studios

Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs comes to London for its 20th anniversary and brings a punch of energy and youthfulness.

(c) Alex Brenner
Colin Campbell (Pig) and Evanna Lynch (Runt)| Alex Brenner

John Haidar directs this upbeat, whirlwind of a story that follows Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch), who are born on the same day, at the same time. They’ve been inseparable ever since, dancing and drinking. They’ve created a world just for the two of them, in which they speak their own language, slang and only follow their own rules. Their friendship almost has a Bonnie and Clyde-esque feel to it, it’s them against the rest of the world, or at least their hometown of Cork. On their 17th birthday however, something changes. They find themselves growing apart.

The production manages to take the audience on the lively and adventurous journey with Pig and Runt through their life in Cork, their own little world with humorous stories and their hopes for the future.

(c) Alex Brenner
Colin Campbell (Pig) and Evanna Lynch (Runt) | Alex Brenner

Evanna Lynch, who is best known for her role as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, gives such a strong performance as Runt. She shows versatility and skill, switching to other characters in a heartbeat. A shimmer of dreaminess shines through when Runt is dreaming of a different life, away from her home and even her best friend Pig.

Colin Campbell is excellent as the youthful, quite intense Pig. His range of emotion keeps the audience on their toes and surprises them when he shows his true feelings for Runt, something other than just the friendship they clearly have.

(c) Alex Brenner
Colin Campbell (Pig) and Evanna Lynch (Runt) | Alex Brenner

Many things are left to the audience’s imagination. The movements created within the play, with thanks to Naomi Said, plays a big part of the production as it creates the space for the audience to use their own imagination. Wonderfully executed, the lighting is magnificent (Elliot Griggs) and transports the viewer into a 90s disco, with (almost) magical lighting effects.

Disco Pigs runs at Trafalgar Studios until 19 August.

Paper Creatures Theatre Company: Exploring simple, compelling and bold stories.

It seems fitting that I meet the founders of the new theatre company Paper Creatures at the National Theatre.

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Flood is the debut play by Paper Creatures | Paper Creatures
It’s only morning but the National Theatre is already buzzing with people, guided tours, tourists and people who are desperately trying to get tickets to Angels in America. We find a quiet and cool space on a warm, sunny day and start talking about Flood, the debut production by Paper Creatures.

The themes were important, we wanted to look at grief within the millennial generation, humour and heart.

Flood is a new comedy drama by playwright Tom Hartwell, about Adam who is “forced to confront his future when those closest to him return after the death of his Mum. Upon their arrival, repressed truths and unsettling secrets are revealed. Flood is a complex and humane portrayal of a group of friends struggling to define themselves beyond the confines of their small town.”

Starting rehearsal on 17 July, the two talk about the first read through of the script.

The first read through was really special. It was so relatble, he [Tom Hartwell] managed to take an ancient idea of a village flooding and put it in such a modern light of 20 year olds, dealing with home and identity.  We were fascinated with the idea, why is it that people want to leave their homes.

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Founders Jon and Nathan | Paper Creatures
Jon and Nathan met when they were both working in an all-male Shakespeare troupe and travelled around the UK and Europe doing open air Shakespeare. “We became quite close on tour, got chatting and when we finished the tour we wanted to do something different after spending five months doing Shakespeare. We thought why don’t we put on a play?”

After seeing a lot of theatre once returned from their tour, they noticed that millennials need a “realistic and honest voice for our generation, the millennial generation, we sometimes felt we were painted a bit one dimensional.”

Also passionate about new plays, they decided to set up a theatre company.

The name paper creatures came from the paper representing the script, where it starts, the blank piece of paper. And then the creatures being the characters that come from that. We are the creatures that make the story and the theatre is the place where we perform, it’s the place where we can tell those stories.

Wanting to create a voice for not only this generation, Jon and Nathan also hope that in the future people will look back on these plays that are new writing now, but could be a potential classic in the future.

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Poster for Flood|Paper Creatures
Talking about the importance of new writing, Paper Creatures explains why they’re happy to be part of London’s theatre community. “There is so much opportunity for fringe theatre, there are so many lovely pub theatres in London and around the UK. It’s thriving at the moment. It’s almost like a revolution, all these new playwrights emerging, coming out of every place you can imagine and then they get transferred to the West End.”

There is such a dynamic community of new writing on the fringe circuit in London that is dominated by the millennial generation in a very positive way and it’s so vibrant, so helpful and so supportive. It’s a really great community to be part of.

By setting up Paper Creatures, the actors want to create a “platform for young new writers, young creators from all different fields, lighting designers, sound designers, to come together and create stories which are simple, bold and compelling.”

Our long term goal is to create a really creative environment to tell these stories with our generation contributing to them, for our generation.

Flood runs as part of the Camden Fringe 2017 at the Tristan Bate Theatre from 31 July until 5 August. You can get tickets here.

@paper_creatures, @jon_tozzi, @NathanJCoenen

Millennials and the theatre: They’re getting the plot wrong

A lot of young people are not interested in going to the theatre for several reasons, but the benefits of regularly seeing a show outweigh their doubts

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|Google images
From the Adelphi theatre in the West End to a fringe show in a 15 seat theatre in East London. The city offers endless amounts of theatrical productions. Revivals, musicals, straight plays and comedies, the choices are endless and cater to every taste. Whether you want a night of dramatic over the top colourful costumes and catchy songs, or a two-actor hour long play that will have you thinking about it for hours afterwards. The choices are as diverse as the audience, or is the audience not as varied as it could be?

According to Andrew Lloyd Webber, London is now behind Broadway with only three new musicals opening until May 2017, whereas New York has 14 new shows.  Instead of supporting new work and giving new writers opportunities to showcase their work, London produces a lot of revivals. But Lloyd Webber claims, it’s not because the West End is not giving enough chances to young writers and producers. He’s criticising the lack of education in the arts in British schools. If there’s no proficient arts education in schools, how are young people supposed to get interested in the arts, particularly the theatre?

Millennials attitudes towards theatre

There’s a community of young theatre lovers in London that can’t imagine anything better than sitting inside an old building and watching people perform. Unfortunately, even more people of the younger generation have no interest in this art form or have the wrong idea about it. The most common thoughts about the performing arts are that it’s unaffordable, not knowing what to expect and thinking it’s too old fashioned.

It’s clear that something needs to change. The theatre has been around for so long, because it has evolved and changed throughout hundreds of years. From the Shakespeare Globe, with bad lighting to contemporary theatre and special effects. The theatre has to change with the times.

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The Harold Pinter Theatre | Sarah Louhichi
However, there’s something about the theatre that is captivating and magical. A good play can make you feel like the last two hours flew by in five minutes.

Culture is an important part of human development. Art has always been used as a way of trying to make sense of the world. Whether it’s through a painting, a sculpture or other artistic creations. Most plays and even musicals are written to highlight problems around the world, in our daily lives, and the way we live and how we might influence the future. Shows usually bring attention to things that should concern all of us.  A lot of plays will have you thinking about its content hours after you’ve left the theatre, because you’ll be drawing connections to contemporary life.

It’s going to make you feel emotions that compare to nothing else. Having something happen right in front of you, is unlike any other medium or type of entertainment. Every performance is different, not considering the big hick ups that might happen. Each show the actors might use a different tempo in a monologue or use different facial expressions. Sometimes the energy in the theatre is so intense that you can’t help but feel excited. Being part of a show is always something unique, you’ll never know how other performances went and how other audience members have experienced it. Unless, you see a show several times, but that’s a whole new topic.

There’s a community of theatre lovers that can’t wait to share their favourite hobby with others. Whether they’re theatre blogger, frequent visitors or actively performing. Thanks to social media you can not only connect with the actors and production team of each show, you can also be part of a huge community that is happy to arrange theatre trips and share their thoughts and feelings about issues in the industry.

It’s understandable that a visit to the theatre seems a bit daunting. Not knowing what to expect, how to behave and what you’re going to experience can be scary for anyone who has no knowledge of anything theatre related. However, once you’ve given it a try and see a production that’ll take your breath away, the benefits of regularly attending shows and letting culture into your life, will be clear.

An American and The Cursed Child

London has millions of visitors every year, a fair amount of them see at least one West End show. Here’s what an American Harry Potter fan thought of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Lori Gilchrist

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Lori Gilchrist just before she stepped into the Palace Theatre | Sarah Louhichi

To be fair, I’ve read the Harry Potter books twice, seen every film multiple times, own the DVD’s and have joined Pottermore – All hail Ravenclaw and Thunderbird. That being said I was angry when Albus was put into Slytherin House in the book version of the play. So I’ve got some bias, I’ll admit that. But I was excited to see the play, though not sure if I’d really like it. It had a lot to live up to especially after paying premium prices at the theatre for premium seats (row D, seat 9). With this play, the theatre doesn’t allow scalpers (‘second-hand ticket broker’) tickets and if you’re lucky enough to find tickets from ATG or Nimax last minute, you take what you can get, pray for the Friday 40 or go home empty handed. £250 is a lot of money for one play. But was it worth it?

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Lori Gilchrist before the Part 1 | Sarah Louhichi

In a word the play is “Awesome” and definitely worth the money. Being close to the stage I was able to see facial expressions and even Harry’s scar. The staging was inventive and surprising. Today a lot of plays and musicals use a single set and the viewer is expected to use their imagination. Not here, the staging reflected the flavour of the Potterverse. Without giving anything away, there’s definitely magic and love in this production.

I’m not familiar with English stage actors, but had seen Alex Price in Father Brown previously. For Americans, sometimes we have problems with West End productions due to unfamiliarity with the different accents and dialects and therefore lose some of the meaning of the play. I had no issues here; it’s very understandable. And for those lacking in Potter knowledge, the story isn’t hard to follow.

You could tell that the cast was respectful and loved the characters they played. The acting was just right, though sometimes I felt Anthony Boyle (playing Scorpius) was a little over the top, but he won me over by Part II. The actors playing Ginny (Poppy Miller), Hermione (Noma Dumezweni), Harry (Jamie Parker) and Draco (Alex Price) reflected the adult characters perfectly, showing the imperfections of adulthood and the doubt of parenthood. Sam Clemmett (playing young Albus Potter) played the bratty little brother we sometimes wish we didn’t have. Real emotions, rationales and actions were exhibited here. If you took away the magical bits, the basic story would still work.

New York gets the play in 2018 but when it will come to Los Angeles, who knows? So if you’re coming to London and you love a good story, I strongly suggest you book tickets when you’re booking your airfare. I wasn’t disappointed. All Hail Cursed Child.

The Enchanted | Review

★★★☆☆ Pharmacy Theatre, The Bunker

An intense and brave tale of evil, the death penalty and the human inside a monster.

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The cast of The Enchanted | Dina T.

The play based on the novel by Rene Denfeld looks at the person behind a murderer and the death penalty. Waiting for your death on death row is lonely. Arden is mute and as he waits for his day, he listens and watches an investigator trying to save some of the prisoners from their deaths. While doing so, she uncovers the sad and disturbing past of some of the ‘monsters’ in the maximum security prison.

The choreography by movement director Emily Orme, conveys a sense of helplessness and sadness that carries throughout the whole play, with an eerie undertone through the music.

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The Cast of The Enchanted | Dina T.

The stage and background are completely white and chalk is used to draw on it. However sometimes it doesn’t have enough of an impact as the light blue colour of the chalk gets lost easily.

The use of puppetry shows a certain vulnerability each of the characters have, it’s done so delicate and creatively it adds to the aesthetics of the show. However, the puppets are always used during narration, therefore they have to compete for the audiences’ attention with the actor on stage and it looses its impact slightly. It would’ve worked better if they had been on stage by itself.

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Corey Montague-Sholay (Arden) | Dina T.

Corey Montague-Sholay who plays the narrator and Arden, a silent killer is captivating. He captured the essence of his character and the play so well, it’s beguiling and so compelling that it would probably work with just him telling the story of all the other characters.

The Enchanted runs at The Bunker until 17 June.

Dealing with post-show depression

Devastated fans explain what happened when their favourite show left the West End for good.

Sunny Afternoon closing night. Image by Harold Pinter Theatre
Sunny Afternoon closing night |Harold Pinter

“I’m missing a huge part of my life. I used to have somewhere to go to, knowing it would make me happy and feel good, I don’t anymore,” said Jessica Gray, 26.

Whether you’re a musical or play lover, London’s West End offers a wide range of shows: from the emotional Les Misèrables, to a juke box musical like Jersey Boys and Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, the longest running show in London, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s tastes.

Every show accumulates a fan base with the musical becoming part of their life, developing friendships with supporters as well as cast members, following the show to other events and creating social media fan accounts becomes a normality.  So, what happens when a show closes?

Sunny Afternoon has grazed the West End for the two rock ‘n’ roll filled years. Not only has it accumulated a huge fan base, it has also won four Olivier Awards and has been praised by many stars, Mark Hamill being one of them.

In August 2016, the hit show on the rise and stardom of iconic English band The Kinks embarked on their first UK Tour, with the West End cast doing their last performance on October 29th 2016.

Below, three very dedicated followers shared their experiences.

Deborah Gilpin

Deborah Gilpin on stage at her 50th show with part of the cast I Image by Deborah Gilpin
Deborah on stage at her 50th show with part of the cast |Deborah Gilpin

Deborah,28, undoubtedly set the record for seeing the most shows within the Sunny Afternoon fan base, hitting the mark at 279 times.

How involved were you with Sunny Afternoon?

Deborah Gilpin: I ended up seeing 279 shows, although I’d have liked to reach the 300 mark.

Throughout her visits, Debbie quickly became friends with other regular audience members, together they started a Twitter fan account. “We just wanted to bring people together initially, then this year we’ve tried our best to promote the second cast as they seemed to be getting less attention, which led to the Cast Member & Understudy of the Month awards,” said Debbie.

How are you coping with the show leaving the West End?

I had no idea how to cope with it at the beginning, my plan was to make the most of it being there, enjoying every minute of it and waiting to see how everything went afterwards. Luckily I have my theatre reviewing keeping me busy. I’m waiting for more of the actors (from both casts) to get new jobs or announce gigs, I’m going to follow them on their new projects. Plus I’m excited to see what the tour is like, I’m planning to see it once it reaches a venue closer to me.

Ksenia Nemchinova

Ksenia Nemchinova outside the Harold Pinter Theatre. Image by Ksenia Nemchinova
Ksenia Nemchinova outside the Harold Pinter Theatre | Ksenia Nemchinova

Ksenia,30,  travelled to London from Russia a lot, seeing the show 122 times: “Being a Kinks fan, I’d been following the development of the show since its first workshop in December 2012.

“I fell in love with Sunny Afternoon and there was no turning back. I’m also co-running the fan page with Debbie and Jess”.

How you’re feeling now and how you’re trying to cope with its ending, do you have a special plan for that?

Ksenia Nemchinova: I’ve never been this attached to a show before so it’s not easy to process and to cope. Sunny Afternoon may not be in London anymore, but I’ve seen the touring production several times and I have grown to love them dearly, so it’s definitely not the end for me, the tour will keep me going for another few months.

And after that, who knows? The show may be back in London again, maybe if we all wish really hard…

Jessica Gray

Jessica Gray with part of the cast at the stage door. Image by Jessica Gray
Jessica Gray with part of the cast at the stage door | Jessica Gray

Jessica has been following the show since its very beginning: “I first saw Sunny Afternoon at the beginning of October 2014.

“I had been invited to review the show for my blog, and became a fan immediately.”

“I started a fan page first on Twitter and then on Facebook and eventually I made arrangements with the show’s marketing company for an official Sunny Afternoon Challenge Week to happen.”

“During it, we would attend every show over a week and blog about it daily, with a new challenge being assigned to us every day.”

What are your plans now?

Jessica Gray: I’m actually leaving London – not exactly because of the show closing, but I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t make my decision a lot easier. I’d like to see the tour again, however following it around the country isn’t an option for me. I’d mostly like to see what actors from the West End production do in the future in terms of new shows.

The world doesn’t end when a show ends. There are different ways to cope with it, whether that is concentrating on other shows, supporting the cast members in new projects or trying to stay away. Even when the show has ended, you’ll always have the memories. Not to forget the cast recording.

Alice’s Adventures Underground|review

★★★★★ Les Enfants Terribles, The Vaults

Alice’s Adventures Underground is an unmissable production that has created the most imaginative way of telling a story.

ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND. Richard Holt 'Hatter' and Philippa Hogg 'March Hare'. ©Rah Petherbridge Photography
Alice’s Adventures Underground | Alex Gilbert

Upon arrival, it feels like walking into a different, whimsical world. Before the performance has even started, you find yourself in awe by the creative design and themed (and strong!) cocktails. Once the journey begins, it’s up to you where it will lead. Alice’s Underground Adventure is unlike anything I’ve seen at The Vaults.

Instead of watching the story unfold right in front of you, you’re part of it and not only that, it’s like stepping into it and you decide where the adventure will take you. Depending on what route you choose, either shrink by taking a drink or grow by having a sweet, you steer your journey through Wonderland.

The Queen of Hearts has turned so evil, chopping off people’s heads for anything. An underground group grows and tries to ignite a revolution…Will you be part of the secret revolution? Or will you be on the Queen’s side?

Be wary that if you’ve come with someone you might not end up with them, as groups are split throughout the production. This is done by picking a playing card and depending on the suit you have chosen, you have to complete a different secret mission.

ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND. Philippa Hogg 'Alice'. ©Rah Petherbridge Photography
Alice in Alice’s Adventures Underground | Alex Gilbert

The design and details are the most interesting thing about this immersive production. You could go several times and still find new things and discover details about this incredible underground world that you haven’t seen before. Besides the creative set up, the actors (or interactors) are the other wonderful thing. Not only do they stay in character the whole time, they also interact incredibly well with the audience. They have an off-the-cuff humour and the talent to improvise, which you find endearing.

Another amazing thing is that the cast switches roles, so if you come twice you’re likely to see different people play different characters. Combined with the different story lines, it’s possible to go several times and still experience something completely new.

by Al Overdrive
Alice’s Adventures Underground | Alex Gilbert

The best part about this adventure is that you’ll actually feel like you’re part of it, you’re making a difference in the story. It’s almost heartbreaking leaving the characters and Wonderland behind. The intricate details of the production won’t leave your mind, even after leaving the venue.

Alice’s Adventures Underground runs at The Vaults until 23 September 2017

@AliceUnderLDN