Curiouser and Curiouser Review: The Alice in Wonderland Exhibition at the V&A

The Alice in Wonderland story has been a constant fascination for me, ever since I was a young child, reading an Alice pop-up book every night, before bed. I would open the book at a certain page and as if by magic, a swirling paper rabbit hole would thrust up, with a falling Alice in the centre, upside-down, bobbing and spinning into Wonderland on a piece of thin, white thread. 

It was the magic and fantasy of Wonderland that interested me. I loved that there were no rules there. The tea party scene was a favourite and I was both terrified of and also in love with the Red Queen who always seemed to be shouting for someone's head to be chopped off. 

A new exhibition at The V&A in South Kensington aims to tell the story of the real Alice - a young girl called Alice Liddell - and the context of the story. It also unfurls the telling of the tale since its creation, from printed, illustrated books to the blockbuster CGI action movies of today.

Alice: Curiouser and Curioser, (c) The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From the outset, the exhibition was atmospheric and definitely immersive. The first room had a number of cabinets showing early Alice merchandise, Victorian telescopes and teapots and original sketches for the first publications. I was especially drawn to a document written in cursive, Victorian hand: the school report of Charles Dodgson, later known as Lewis Carroll. It remarked that he was "marvellously ingenious in replacing the ordinary flexions of nouns and verbs... by.. convenient forms of his own devising" and that this "fault" would soon pass. 

This was the personal side to the story: its origins and its beginnings. 

In the rooms that followed, we saw its evolution. Into art, movies, fashion and music. There were clips of the earliest silent Alice films, made in the early 1900s - and then clips of more modern movies to the present day. We saw how the story had influenced art and sometimes how it, in turn, had been influenced by art itself. There were original costume sketches, music scores and scripts. Life-size mannequins modelled Wonderland-inspired costumes, some of which were used on the stage. 

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser (c) The Victoria and Albert Museum

One of the things we really enjoyed was that, although the exhibition was clearly meant to impart information, it made you feel as if you had tumbled down a rabbit hole into Wonderland yourself. We noticed smaller cut outs into walls so that younger visitors could peer in at displays and there were some activities and games that appealed to younger children, too. The space between the galleries was beautifully decorated, making you feel as if you were entering different parts of the Wonderland world. 

The light shows were amazing and I joined the crowd of people around the tea table who filmed the changing light displays on their mobile phones. There was a room of mirrors and papers and illustrations that seemed to float down from above while you walked from one gallery to another. In one gallery you're greeted with the curl of the Cheshire Cat's grin slowly emerging from a pillar. There was a virtual reality experience too, but with a 30-minute queue for this, we decided not to take part. 

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum. 

We really enjoyed the exhibition and left feeling as if we had a greater understanding of the world of Alice in Wonderland. The exhibition brought to life the story's origins and it was interesting to follow the story of the real Alice and gain an insight into Lewis Carroll's creativity as a person. We loved all the artwork, movies and the fashion. It did get busy in certain galleries, but the exhibition was so well thought out that everything seemed to flow very well. 

I've left, if that's even possible, a bigger Alice fan than I was when I went in. 

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser is on at the V&A South Kensington until 31st December 2021. All information is correct at the time of writing, do check the website for more details before you make your journey.  

You might also like: 9 Afternoon Teas for History and Heritage Lovers, A Tour of Elizabethan House, Plymouth and Hidden Talents of British Kings and Queens. 

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