Bring together the magic and mayhem of Alice in Wonderland, the culinary wizardry of food designers Bompass and Parr and a cast of over 50 professional and community performers, and place it all in the beautiful gardens of a moated 15th-century manor house and you should have the recipe for an astonishing theatre experience. Regrettably, however, the idea behind Dining With Alice, an immersive show taking place at Elsing Hall as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival this week, is far more impressive than its execution.

Bompass and Parr’s Victorian-inspired banquet, the first course of which is eaten at one table, the next course at another, and so on, with the audience constantly moved through the gardens, is inventive, playful and delicious. At one stage in the meal audience members are seated to dine on their own, which although unnerving at first, has the very clever effect of focusing one’s attention on the intricacies of the table setting, John Del’ Nero’s brilliant soundscape and the little snippets of theatre happening around the place.

As a taster of the experience to come, this works very well, raising expectations and putting audience members in the right frame of mind to respond to interactive drama. But although the meal continues and the atmosphere in the gardens becomes increasingly magical as night falls, the theatre element of Dining With Alice hits a dead end.

Director Hilary Westlake’s cast of flamboyant Lewis Carroll characters look the part, but there are too few of them for this to feel like immersive theatre proper. Each table gets just a couple of moments of Alice-related dialogue during the evening, not enough to ever get a sense of character from actors who for the most part appear unwilling (or unable) to really engage with audience members. The large team of community actors playing waiters do their best to create the appropriate atmosphere, but have not been directed enough to help the drama along.

The final part of the show, a sort of variety performance and sing-a-long from the cast, with the entire audience brought together in one place for the first time since the start of the evening, makes for an unsatisfying end to things. With so little invested in the characters, the audience is easily distracted from the underwhelming, lazily directed performances and the show ends with a whimper rather than a bang.

All in all, an opportunity wasted, and along with it a great deal of public money. What a shame.