Who The… Is Alice?


Entering the Alice exhibition

Strangely there’s a major London museum I’d never actually been to, namely the V&A. That changed the , when Heather, the visiting Gemma, and I went for a little trip there, because we’ve proven that if there’s an Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland exhibition in town we’ll be visiting.

We arrived a bit early so started off with a little look round some of the nearby galleries. There seemed to be a lot of collections of things, and I have to confess I don’t quite understand the point. For instance, one room was full of tiny little jewelled boxes. They’re very pretty, and probably very expensive, but they’re not particularly special. The sheer number is evidence that they aren’t particularly rare, and they’re not first, or belonged to someone particularly notable. They just are. Peculiar.

Alice Books

A bookcase and rabbit

Anyway, it was soon time to head into Alice, descending a staircase like a more civilised fall down a rabbit hole. The first rooms were fine, a quick introduction to the subject and a couple of pieces. The main room (of the whole exhibition really) followed after that, a collection of illustrations, photographs, etc. As per usual with these things one wonders, particularly in these Covid times, how they manage to allow exhibitions with timed ticketed entry to get quite so crowded—partly perhaps because they’ve crammed everything into this one space instead of spreading it out into the virtually empty rooms which would come later. There was also an issue with it being just so dark, shadows (my own and those of others) frequently making it difficult to actually read the information cards adorning the walls.

There wasn’t really anything here that I hadn’t seen before, but that’s probably to be expected. There were also some pieces that just weren’t really Alice in anything more than a tangential way, all the while the absence of the actual book hanging over things. Possibly most interesting was a side-by-side comparison of the withdrawn first edition with its replacement. You can clearly see the difference in print quality and it’s no surprise that Tenniel wasn’t happy with the original.

Heather Has A Rest

Taking a moment in the exhibition

From there things got a bit more sparse. It appears to be the way of these things to have large, practically empty spaces, with a large set piece, often with little to no relation to the subject matter. Hence we got some light projection of some of Tenniel’s illustrations not really doing anything, and a little side room with fairground funny mirrors. Another space had a mushroom with badly sculpted caterpillar and, for some reason, a deckchair. Why for goodness sake not actually make use of the space to give room to some of the actual Alice things cramped up earlier!

Black And White Tea Party

Projected onto the table

Things did get better as we moved onto Alice’s influence on culture and her many, many varied appearances. I enjoyed listening to Jefferson Airplane and enjoyed the clips of Peter Cook at the Mad Hatter’s tea party from the 1966 TV version. The latter was on a screen next to another, a least more interesting, light projection, changing a cascading table cloth and tea set at the (now abandoned) party.

There were some of the more outlandish costumes created to represent Alice and associated characters, vaguely interesting and at least related, but not much my cup of tea. And then we were back to the large, somewhat pointless rooms, feeling almost more desperate to fill the space to the way out than anything. Some projected swirling words and a half hearted attempt at a mirror maze.

The little shop was as expected, large exhibition catalogue, little books, copies of Alice of course, but lacked anything capturing the quirkiness of the subject matter, which felt a bit of a shame.

We emerged and headed for the cafe for lunch. That in itself was an experience. A bizarre and confusing layout coupled with a strange range of offerings. I’m glad I checked the queue we first joined, as it turned out to be a massive snake to just get coffee and cake. What wasn’t on offer was a simple sandwich (some sort of fancy thing with two salads instead). The cold drinks were hidden away too. I ended up with coke and crisps.

After that we had a bit of a wander round the museums galleries. There are the usual items but I stand by my comment of the time, it all felt a bit like a poor man’s British Museum, which has the same but better. Still, at least I got the chance to see the most bizarre looking “dolphin* Even the museum seem to admit it might be a salmon

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