Oxford, 1862. At the Liddell family’s garden party, Lewis Carroll, a family friend, entertains three young sisters with a story and magic tricks. One of them, Alice, is friends with the gardener’s boy, Jack. He gives her a rose and she gives him a jam tart. But Alice’s mother accuses Jack of stealing it and dismisses him. As a curious variety of guests arrive Lewis Carroll consoles Alice. While taking her photograph he disappears beneath the camera cloth and emerges as a White Rabbit, then vanishes into his camera-bag. Alice follows and falls into a mysterious and wonderful world. Jack is the Knave of Hearts, accused of stealing a tray of tarts by the bad-tempered Queen of Hearts, whose guards pursue him relentlessly.
Alice spies a garden through a keyhole, but cannot reach it. She finds a drink that makes her shrink and a cake that makes her grow enormous. She swims in a lake of her own tears with a variety of strange creatures, and afterwards arranges a race to cheer them up. She encounters a Duchess in a cottage tending a baby (while a Cook makes pigs into sausages), fish- and frog-footmen and a mysterious Cheshire Cat. The White Rabbit and the Knave, worried for her safety, forbid her to follow them and blindfold her.
Alice becomes even more confused when she asks the Cheshire Cat for directions, then finds herself at a bizarre tea party with a Mad Hatter, a March Hare and a sleepy Dormouse. She escapes, only to meet an exotic Caterpillar perched on a mushroom, who lifts her spirits and, before disappearing, gives her a piece of the mushroom.
At last she finds herself in the garden, full of strange and beautiful flowers and, to her delight, she finds the Knave. But the Queen is still in pursuit and the Knave escapes again, followed by the White Rabbit and Alice.
Three gardeners are painting the rosebushes red, having mistakenly planted white ones, which the Queen hates. The Queen arrives and orders the gardeners to be executed. She shows off her dancing skills, then she and the Duchess begin a croquet game with flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls. When she accuses the Queen of cheating, the Duchess is next to be ordered for execution.
The Knave is discovered and brought to the castle to face trial. All the colourful characters are witnesses and accuse the Knave as the trial descends into mayhem. His defence has little effect so Alice intervenes: he is innocent, she insists; if anyone is guilty, it is she. Together they deliver a final testimony, winning the hearts of all but the Queen, who seizes an axe. A chase ensues.
With no escape in sight, Alice pushes a witness over. He falls on top of another, who then falls on another, until the entire court collapses: they’re only playing cards, after all.
And in the midst of the chaos, Alice awakes.
Choreography Christopher Wheeldon
Music Joby Talbot orchestrated by Christopher Austin and Joby Talbot
Scenario Nicholas Wright
Set and costume design Bob Crowley
Lighting design Natasha Katz
Projection designs Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington
Puppet concept and design Toby Olié
Magic consultant Paul Kieve
With Orchestra Victoria in Melbourne
With Opera Australia Orchestra in Sydney
The production was commissioned and first performed by The Royal Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada
The Kenneth R Reed Fund generously supports the recreation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland© for The Australian Ballet
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