Wonderland – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Book: Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy (from the works of Lewis Caroll)

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Lyrics: Jack Murphy

Director: Lotte Wakeham

Reviewer: James Garrington

If you come to see Wonderland hoping for something profound with well-rounded characters, you are in the wrong place. There is a moral, a lesson to take away – but more than anything it’s a lot of fun.

Wonderland is based loosely on the characters and situations found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Here, Alice is a 40-year-old divorcee with a teenage daughter. She is a woman who has been constantly put down by her ex-husband, who gets fired from her job when her car is stolen, and who wishes things would change so she didn’t have to live in the real world which seems so against her. Her only friend, if she’d just realise it, is the shy, ordinary guy who lives downstairs. Up pops a giant white rabbit, and Alice, daughter Ellie and ordinary-guy Jack follow it into a disused lift to Wonderland. Among the strange people they meet there – Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and so on – they find a giant looking glass, which makes your personality the opposite of what it was – if you’re only brave enough to go through it.

 Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s book isn’t going to set the world alight, though using the familiar Lewis Carroll characters in a modern context is a good way of introducing the fairly unsubtle moral in the tale. The characters themselves are stereotyped and not really developed – though among the obvious, there are a couple of surprises created by the Looking Glass experience, creating some good comedy moments in the process. The music, written by Frank Wildhorn of Jekyll and Hyde fame, contains a good mix of power ballads and lighter numbers, with the odd comedy song.

The cast is universally strong. Kerry Ellis (Alice) has a strong voice ideally suited to the big numbers in the show while also delivering in the quieter moments, including a beautiful duet with Jack (Stephen Webb), who gives a pleasing performance as a would-be hero. Much as in the books, the White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) is a recurring character and it’s a shame, give how much stage time he has, that Willetts doesn’t get to show off his voice more – we have to wait until Act Two before his big number. The Queen (Wendi Peters) has relatively little to do, but Peters makes the most of what she has as a jam-tart-and-beheading-obsessed monarch. Natalie McQueen also demonstrates a powerful voice and delightfully over-the-top performance as Mad Hatter, while the best character transformation of the evening comes from Naomi Morris as Alice’s daughter Ellie. Morris is a delight, with a great voice and possibly the best characterisation in the show.

Wonderland is a bit of a Marmite show – you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s perhaps one of those shows which will develop a cult following. It’s totally daft, pretty surreal, and deliberately more than a bit camp. Director Lotte Wakeham has transformed a fairly shallow script into something very entertaining.

If you’re looking for a show you don’t know, a show with good music and a light theme, you’ll enjoy Wonderland a lot.

Runs until 11 February 2017 | Image: Paul Coltas

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Daft, surreal and very enjoyable

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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