How do you embrace difference in a city being smothered by its own Pret a Mangers?

You go out. In this case, precisely, you go out to the Roundhouse and catch hip-hop dance company ZooNation and The Royal Ballet’s astounding new show The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Loosely-inspired by Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, we enter a (literal) asylum of the glorious and colourful, all expressing themselves through awesome, thrilling movement. Yet there is a bar on their freedom: they all suffer from poor mental health, and the White Coats want them to conform to normality.

Of course, luckily for us, the patients plan to do anything but conform. Therefore we get to witness Issac ‘Turbo’ Baptiste’s Mad Hatter strut his mastery of the floor, Teneisha Bonner’s fearsome Queen of Hearts glow as she cartwheels and spins, and Jaih Betote’s White Rabbit defy gravity through jaw-dropping somersaults and flips. These are just three amongst a dynamic menagerie of skill and beauty displayed by the ZooNation’s brilliant dancers.

A collaboration between ZooNation and The Royal Ballet, it’s refreshing to see a doyen of the establishment support and embrace the power of hip-hop. Written and directed by Katie Prince, ZooNation’s Artistic Director, the script also valiantly attempts to explore the world of mental health. OCD is touched upon, and the Queen of Hearts’ tale of childhood experience leading to adult anger is emotive.

Ultimately though, we all know we’re there for the spectacular dancing rather than the Mad Hatter’s tenuous mercury poisoning. But special mention must also be made of Andy Murrell’s stunning lighting design, and Josh Cohen’s narrating Bertie who almost had to remember the whole play. The wonderful ‘Men in White Coats’ band complemented the dance with great live numbers, interspersed with DJ Walde’s fluid, physical and synapse-flashing beats.

However, there was one drawback to this production. For a show that essentially had a queer pride narrative at its heart, celebrating being different from the norm, there was not one LGBT character. The one concession I noted was Bradley Charles’ March Hare who, after being rejected by two women, tried for love with the men – to a ripple of laughter from the audience. It is not as if LGBT mental health is an insignificant issue – and it is often caused by invisibility.

Yet, this wearying note aside, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party revives a love of the alternative and magic in your soul. Maybe it was the Bristolian accent the narrator adopted, but I was immediately transported back to teenage rave clubs. This is a show that reminds of festivals, glowsticks and the glory that glitters in nightlife. Anybody who’s been entranced by the dancers at Beyond on a Sunday morning, will know and love this dream of difference.

Rating: 4/5

‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ is at London’s Roundhouse until 22 January. For tickets call 020 7304 4000 or 0300 6789 222

For more deals on tickets and show, visit tickets.attitude.co.uk

Words: Patrick Cash

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