Louise Levene

Pretty vacant

Plus: a very mixed bill at Sadler’s Wells from Carlos Acosta’s new company

Alice is at it again. Christopher Wheeldon’s 2011 three-act ballet began another sell-out run at Covent Garden last week. It’s a joy to look at and packed with featured roles that show off the Royal Ballet’s strength in depth. If only it weren’t such a bore: thinly written characters; anodyne choreography and zero dramatic tension.

To be fair, the episodic dream logic of the original doesn’t make for a coherent or involving narrative. Wheeldon and his scenarist, Nicholas Wright, have done their best to correct for this by tacking on a Wizard of Oz-style prologue in which the Caterpillar, Dormouse et al. are human guests at an Oxford tea party. Carroll’s heroine becomes a teenager (and thus eligible for romantic duets), and a modern-day epilogue has been added to reunite her with the Knave of Hearts. But this perfunctory happy ending doesn’t engage us and Joby Talbot’s brassy, percussive score can’t fill the emotional gaps.

Lauren Cuthbertson showed off her long, clean lines and light jump at last Wednesday’s opening and Federico Bonelli brought boyish charm and classical elegance to the Knave, but the night belonged to Laura Morera’s Queen of Hearts. The Spanish star relishes the physical comedy of Wheeldon’s parody of the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty, but Morera’s Queen is far more than a comic turn and her hilarious playing of the axe-happy monarch is all of a piece with the neurotic châtelaine of the deanery in the opening scene. Tierney Heap, who took over the role at Saturday’s matinee, nailed the slapstick but missed that sense of a personality in meltdown.

Saturday afternoon’s Alice was Francesca Hayward, who brings the right mix of girlish charm and grown-up technique, feet bourrée-ing exquisitely in straight-from-the-box pink satin pointe shoes and a jeté like a paper plane.

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