Book: Gregory Boyd & Jack Murphy
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics: Jack Murphy
Director: Lotte Wakeham
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
With stage adaptations of fairy tales featuring heavily in the landscape of musical theatre, it’s perhaps surprising that a show based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has, for the most part, yet to make an impact.
Director Lotte Wakeham, and musician Frank Wildhorn’s offering is Wonderland; a modern take on both Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland and Carroll’s sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass. The twist here is that rather than a curious child, Alice (Kerry Ellis) is a forty year old woman living in a run-down flat with her young daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris). Abandoned by her husband, and having given up on her career as a teacher and her dream of being a writer, Alice is struggling to find the joy in the real world, allowing herself to become self-centred and needy. When Ellie follows Dave Willetts’ White Rabbit down an abandoned lift shaft into Wonderland, Alice and her downstairs neighbour Jack (Stephen Webb) set off in pursuit.
One of the biggest problems with the show from the outset is that Carroll’s lyrical language, rich with contradiction and riddles, doesn’t translate particularly well to the stage. Instead, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s book veers between overly wacky characters (Dominic Owen’s Russell Brand-inspired Cheshire Cat) emphasising how little sense they’re making by jumping around the stage a lot, and awkwardly-delivered dialogue about Alice’s constant desire to be saved. Meanwhile, the rest of us get a rather heavy-handed lesson in the importance of finding out who we really are.
Andrew Riley’s towering set easily fills the space with rabbit holes, magic mirrors, and a multi-purpose tea-table centrepiece. Often though, despite the energy and enthusiasm of the company, Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography fails to fill some of the gaps left in the middle of it all.
What Wonderland lacks in finesse, however, it makes up for in its score and delivery. Wildhorn has created a string of lush, catchy pop hits. Touching ballads Home, I Am My Own Invention, and Once More I See, seem to finish far too soon. While Jack emerging from the looking glass with a boy band of knights in tow for One Knight, and the Mad Hatter’s (Natalie McQueen) storming blues-rock rant, I Will Prevail, hint at the kind of show this could be; spoilt only by the sheer volume of the orchestra drowning out most of the lyrics in every big group number.
But not even sound desk issues can dull Ellis’ talent. With her ability to make both powerhouse and poignancy sound utterly effortless, by the time she takes centre stage to belt out the closing number, Finding Wonderland, it feels like at least some of the confusing story and uneven tone can be forgiven.
Wonderland feels like a workshop piece, a try-out; fluctuating between pantomime, and a much darker, twisted tale. Given a sharper focus, it easily has the potential to surpass itself to become something far more memorable.
Runs until 13 May 2017 | Image: Paul Coltas