Alice in Wonderland – British Library

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I’m a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, and 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To celebrate, the British Library is holding an exhibition all about Alice.

Starting from Carroll’s initial conception of the tale – as a story told to while away the hours on an Oxford river jaunt one warm June – the exhibition covers the initial manuscript version, Alice Under Ground (which he wrote for Alice Liddell), followed by the full published version complete with John Tenniel’s illustrations. Over the next century and a half, various editions of Alice and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, have been produced, with illustrations from the likes of Arthur Rackham, Mervyn Peake and Salvador Dali. The exhibition focuses mainly on illustrated editions of the books, but it also includes merchandise produced at the time (Carroll was pretty savvy about such things) and more recently. A must-see for all Alice fans.

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The Alice Look – Museum of Childhood

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The Alice Look

I’d been meaning to visit the Museum of Childhood’s exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, The Alice Look, since it opened on 2nd May, and I finally got round to going on its last weekend. To be honest, it was more of a display than an exhibition, consisting of five or six display cases, but in fairness, like the main museum, it was free to visit. I did find it interesting.

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Modern, Victorian-style “Alice” dress, made from fabric printed with the book’s text

The exhibition is divided into four categories, looking at Alice’s beginnings, her role as a follower of fashion, the inspiration her image has had on successive generations, and global Alice. I was interested to note that Lewis Carroll, who created the original illustrations in his handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (the early version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), purposely gave his Alice long blonde hair to differentiate her from the real-life Alice Liddell, his inspiration, who had black bobbed hair. The early coloured images of Alice showed her wearing a yellow Victorian-style frock, and she didn’t have a hairband and stockings until the release of the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the 1951 Disney movie that she was given a blue dress, the colour now most associated with her. It was interesting to look at the illustrations from early 20th century editions of Alice: they largely matched the fashions of the time, with Twenties editions, for instance, showing Alice wearing a drop-waist dress.

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Japanese “Lolita” style Alice costume

I enjoyed seeing how Alice’s look has inspired popular culture around the world: particularly interesting to me were a Japanese “Lolita” style Alice costume and a Swahili Alice in a kanga dress. I also remembered Gwen Stefani’s video for “What You Waiting For” which was strongly inspired by Alice. I’m glad I made the effort to go, even though the exhibition was small.

Alice’s Adventures Underground

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I love immersive theatre and recently I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, a show held at The Vaults in Waterloo, performed by Les Enfants Terribles to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve written a review here, but I thought I would go into my experience in more detail, as I want to be sure of remembering it all. Please note, the following may contain spoilers!

I arrived at the venue and, after a short wait in the bar, we were taken to the first room of the experience, a gorgeous Victorian study full of books, papers and developing photographs – perhaps in homage to Lewis Carroll’s interest in photography? Even here, it was obvious that nothing was quite as it seems – the bookcases were curved as if to fit a rabbit hole, with nothing but magic to keep the books from falling out.

There was a mirror in the corner of the room, and we could see Alice, trapped and unable to get out. The clock chimed and a hidden door in the wall flew open, revealing a passageway lined with the pages of books. We made our way tentatively through the tunnel, to find ourselves “falling” down the rabbit hole, as Carroll’s words were read out by a hidden voice somewhere above us.

Once again the doors flew open and we found the White Rabbit waiting for us; he introduced us to Wonderland and invited us to eat or drink to determine the route we would take. The set here was incredibly clever, using visual tricks to make it look as if you really were growing smaller or larger depending whether you chose the “Eat Me” or “Drink Me” route. I chose “Drink Me” and followed the White Rabbit, who smuggled us into Wonderland away from the eyes of the Queen’s border guards. I was hoping to keep my little “Drink Me” bottle as a souvenir, but sadly it was taken away.

did get to keep my playing card: we were each given one of these which determined the group we would belong to for the rest of the evening. In a small woodland area we all met the Cheshire Cat, an incredible puppet who was chilling and magical.

We then split into our groups: I was a Club, and we first of all visited the Duchess in her kitchen, complete with pig baby. We helped to make some “soup” and were hustled into the office of the Knave of Hearts, in which we ended up having to eat the evidence – a plate of jam tarts. Again, the detail in each room was astounding, and all the characters were incredibly well drawn.

A visit to Tweedledum and Tweedledee saw us huddle down in an attempt to avoid the brothers swinging about over us, and squirting us with water pistols. Fortunately our next visit was much more relaxing: a trip upstairs to lounge with the Caterpillar (another amazing puppet) in his lair.

Throughout all of this, we were aware that we were part of the rebel forces fighting against the Queen – who was trying to stamp out all the “nonsense” in Wonderland – and we had to learn a special Raven hand signal. We were introduced to “Bill” the Lizard, the leader of this gang, before we made our way into the garden – full of white roses being painted red – and then a spooky vault containing a long table: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Following some party antics, we were taken through to the courtroom for the grand finale. It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the amount of thought and care that had gone into the production. It became apparent that the Clubs (of which I was one) and the Spades belonged to the rebels, while the Hearts and the Diamonds were on the side of the Queen. Each group had their own role to play in the ensuing conflict – would the Queen be defeated and Alice be released?

I thought this experience was truly amazing, one of the most detailed and best thought out immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I wonder if I could manage to get back before it closes at the end of August to take the “Eat Me” route…

Jewellery from Wonderland

Last night I went to see Alice’s Adventures Underground, an immersive theatre piece in the Vaults of Waterloo Station. The experience was amazing and it’s inspired me to put together this list of Alice-themed jewellery.

Croquet anyone? This huge flamingo necklace from Baccurelli is simply amazing.

For a more regal look, this Queen of Hearts-inspired necklace from IMPARTANDACCESSORIES is full of glitz.

Remind yourself that “we’re all mad here” with this necklace from Downtherabbithole10.

This Cheshire Cat Brass Cuff from JezebelCharms contains text from the original book as well as a Tenniel illustration.

I also love this amazing “Drink Me” brooch from The Spangled Maker.

Finally, if hats are more your thing, you can find plenty inspired by the Mad Hatter, including this one from littlecasaroo.

You can find loads of Alice-themed jewellery and accessories on Etsy and beyond – hunting can be addictive!