IT is one of the most enduring and magical stories, Alice and her adventures with the White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter.
Now in the 150th anniversary year of Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed tale Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, fans will be able to quite literally follow Alice down the rabbit hole and go deep underground to become part of her Wonderland adventure thanks to two shows - Alice’s Adventures Underground and Adventures In Wonderland.
Three years in the planning, the two - an adult and a child version - promise to bring this fabulous story to life on a grand scale, blending storytelling, live music, circus, installations and spectacle along with a collection of fantastical puppets in imersive promenade performances.
With a cast of more than 30 both will feature 33 rooms, a tea table of gigantic proportions, an original soundtrack, a rabbit hole, a hazy Caterpillar lair, Cheshire cats, a mysteriously absent Alice, plenty of tea and of course a truly terrifying Queen of Hearts.
And that’s not all, to complement the shows, there will be a series of Wonderland Sessions to celebrate the long-lasting legacy of the story which will include readings, discussions and live music.
This enormous undertaking has been created by critically acclaimed theatre company Les Enfants Terribles.
They have enlisted what director James Seager calls a “crack team” of writers, performers, musicians and puppeteers to bring Alice’s fans right to the heart of Wonderland.
It is being staged in the vast, cavernous and labyrinthine tunnels under Waterloo Station known as the Vaults which James says has been totally transformed.
Tickets have been selling like hot tarts, so much so that both shows have now been extended from their original six week run to the end of August, and James is delighted.
“It’s quite incredible,” he laughs. “I am bowled over and really excited though it’s also completely terrifying because it’s such an epic undertaking.
“There are so many people involved. It’s certainly the biggest thing we have ever done. It’s hugely technical and the level of complexity is incredible and has been very challenging but it’s been an amazing privilege to do it."
For James it was the continuing appeal of the story that inspired him to create the shows.
“It’s a milestone in British literature, an amazing piece of work, and there is a huge and enduring love and fascination for the story," he says.
"It has some fantastic characters and it is set in a magical, crazy and totally nonsensical world which is both dangerous and exciting but a place we all want to go to.
“Of course it is also wonderfully written and it gives the reader a chance to use their imagination.
"Over the years it has been interpreted in various different ways,” he adds. "I wanted to do something a bit different to celebrate the 150th anniversary, but remain faithful to the essence of the story - I'm not sure anyone has done anything like this or on this scale before!
"I liked the idea of setting it underground as it fits the story so when the Vaults came up it was the obvious choice.
“These tunnels are amazing and they really take your breath away," he adds. "The entire space is about the size of two football pitches and we have taken over all of it.
"I love the fact that from the outside you'd never know it was there - the full splendour of it is revealed as you go through the doors."
To bring Wonderland to life the team has built areas and rooms within the tunnels through which the audience will travel as they see the story unfold in front of and around them.
They will be divided into groups and go in different directions and every 15 minutes a new group will begin their adventure.
“I don't want to give too much away but will be quite disorientating experience,” says James. “We have created lots of different rooms that people will visit as the story is told to them by the actors.
"It will be a question of ‘where am I?’ as they go through all the different rooms and tunnels. Each space will be different to the last and visually will look amazing - for example in one of the rooms every wall is a door.
"It's very complicated and challenging because the audience gets split up and they go off in different directions and the actors need to be in certain places at specific times. But it makes it exciting.”
At the end of the show they will find themselves in the Queen's Gardens and will be encouraged to stay on, have a drink in the bar or enjoy the live music that will play after the evening shows.
It has been a real labour of love for the team knitting all the elements together and James admits when he first came up with the idea he had no idea it would turn into such an undertaking.
"We've been planning this for so long but as we began creating it we realised the potential and opportunity for developing it in different ways," he says.
"That's why we have a show for those over the age of about 12 and one for younger audiences. The younger ones are the next generation of theatre-goers and we felt it was important to make something for them too.
"There are also the add ons of live music, food and drink in the maze, flamingo croquet and sessions where people can come along and explore the story further.
"It's definitely made our lives harder but in its 150th year we thought we should do something special and exciting - so I hope audiences will enjoy being immersed in this amazing Wonderland."
Alice’s Adventures Underground and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will take place at The Vaults, Leake Street until August 31.
Visit www.alice-underground.com/ or call the box office on 0871 230 1557 for full listings.