Review: Dining With Alice
With the magnificent Elsing Hall as a backdrop, Dining with Alice saw the Mad Hatter's tea party brought to life in one of the most magical, enchanting and memorable performances I have ever attended.
From the very first moment, walking through the gardens to the marquee where we were served gin and ginger ale and spying Alice in Wonderland hiding in the topiary, there was a sense of anticipation in the air about what was to come: and Hilary Westlake's open-air dinner party-cum-performance more than lived up to expectations.
Under heavy skies that threatened but didn't deliver rain, we were taken on an incredible journey, coming face-to-face with the reimagined characters from Lewis Carroll's fantastical book who introduced us to the concept of Dining With Alice.
Having met the cast, we then met our waiters for the night, all of whom were dressed in white and wearing jewel-coloured turbans.
At this point, I must demur from spoiling the secret element of the performance, other than to say that it's genuinely quite thrilling while at the same time being a little disconcerting and definitely very exciting.
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I'd tell you, but it would ruin the magic.
As diners, we walked to different tables across the fine grounds of Elsing, sampling food from gastronomic magicians Bompas and Parr, ably assisted by City College Norwich students. I ate Mock Turtle Soup (with a 'perfumed quail's egg'), a 'Drink Me' Quinine and Bitter Orange Constitutional, After the Caterpillar (a field mushroom pate) and The Unmeatened Leek (a layered pie).
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We ate outside, under the stars, entertained by Alice in Wonderlands of all sizes. Our final destination, which we reached after a lantern parade, was a fairytale floating platform twinkling with lights and in front of Elsing Hall itself.
Breathtakingly beautiful, we dined on delicate delights such as The Jellateena, violet and elderflower jelly, and The Cake Array, a trio of Frank Dale cakes in miniature, washed down with mint and dandelion tea, while watching an incredible musical performance from the cast which culminated in my favourite song of the night from two of the six Alice in Wonderlands.
I just can't recommend Dining With Alice highly enough. Every single detail of the experience is spectacular, spellbinding and special – it's clear just how difficult this production must have been, logistically, and I take my (mad) hat off to everyone involved.
t Dining With Alice is at Elsing Hall until May 21, 01603 766400, www.nnfestival.org.uk
t Sky Arts is making a behind-the-scenes film of Dining with Alice which will be broadcast from June 6 and available to view from www.sky.com/arts