The Royal Ballet’s Alice has sensational production design and an overstuffed storyline. Putting Lewis Carroll’s Alice books on stage, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon wants to include all the famous bits. He and his design team conjure dazzling illusions, from shrinking Alice to a marvellous Cheshire Cat, but the dancing can get squeezed to the sidelines.
Created in 2011, when it was an immediate hit, Wheeldon’s Alice wrestles to create a coherent plot from Carroll’s surreal progression of incidents. Nicholas Wright’s scenario starts with an Oxford party held by Alice’s parents. The guests then turn up in the Wonderland of her dream. Lewis Carroll becomes the White Rabbit; the gardener’s boy Jack becomes the Knave of Hearts; Alice’s own overbearing mother becomes a monstrous Queen of Hearts. Wright and Wheeldon add real-life counterparts for every major character, until the stage is distractingly crowded.
The plunge into Wonderland is brilliantly done. Lauren Cuthbertson’s Alice dives down the rabbit hole and becomes a puppet, falling through swirling projections by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington. When Cuthbertson lands in a world of doors, she chases one small, elusive door: delightfully remote-controlled, it keeps whirring out of reach.
This sequence is Wheeldon’s best choreography for Alice. As the scenery changes size around her, Cuthbertson wriggles and flows as she grows and shrinks. Jumping for an out-of-reach door handle, she’s assertive and determined, with crisp footwork and fluid lines.
After that, we lose track of her in the whirl of characters and images. Bob Crowley’s designs are superb throughout, but Wheeldon’s choreography ranges from lively to sketchy. The caucus race and the Duchess’s house are horribly repetitive. In this first revival, Wheeldon has cut his long first act into two, but he’d have done better to trim it.
Things perk up in what is now the second act. Steven McRae is a breezy, tap-dancing Mad Hatter, bouncing off the stage of a toy theatre onto a trampoline shaped like a Victoria sponge. Eric Underwood makes a gorgeously sinuous Caterpillar, with one of the most infectious numbers in Joby Talbot’s colourful score.
The Queen of Hearts makes sure she’s the centre of attention. Wheeldon gives her a parody of The Sleeping Beauty’s Rose Adagio, with terrified cavaliers partnering Laura Morera’s wittily horrible Queen. Federico Bonelli is a lyrical Knave, with Edward Watson a twitchy, distinctive White Rabbit. This Alice is a fine spectacle, but a thin ballet.
Until 16 April. Box office 020 7304 4000