Just the one shade of grey covers the stage when projections of computer animations aren’t being shown in wonder.land (pronounced, ‘wonder-dot-land’), playing at the National Theatre 150 years after the initial publication of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in 1865. The greyness inadvertently serves as a metaphor for the show, sadly. The compositions of Damon Albarn (yep, he of ‘Blur’ fame) are too similar to each another for any one of the musical numbers to stand out.
Wonder.land? More like Wonder.bland.
Moira Buffini’s book and lyrics, meanwhile, show elements of brilliance (and occasional poetic licence) but none of the punchlines or choruses stick in the brain, and, however much some in the audience lavished their fulsome praise of this unusual production, I didn’t hear anyone humming any of the tunes afterwards. And I hung about for a good few minutes, albeit to queue up for the cloakroom.
The technology that can be harnessed by shows today continues to grow in range and quality quite exponentially (limited, as always, only by budgetary constraints), and the major saving grace for this musical is how smoothly integrated the sophisticated videos and animation worked in tandem with the dialogue and movement of the on-stage actors. Perhaps the praise should actually be heaped on the company, for keeping dialogue and movement in line with the technology! Either way, it’s all very slick and polished.
Aly (Lois Chimimba) seeks escape from the vagaries of life online, and in that sense, there isn’t much difference between her and those of us who ‘escape’ to the theatre to put ourselves in another dimension. Without giving too much away, teenage Aly is fighting against issues on several fronts in both her school and personal life, and so turns to wonder.land, an online gaming portal of some sort.
One can’t help but think that some of this has been done before: Alice (Carly Bawden), Aly’s ‘avatar’, is not far removed from Glinda in Wicked, while Aly’s headteacher, Ms Manxome (Anna Francolini) runs a tyrannical regime with a personal penchant for detentions and generally instilling fear in her pupils. Trunchbull from Matilda The Musical, anyone? Many of the other characters from Lewis Carroll’s original are broadly recognisable, and come to life as other online avatars. I’ll leave it to you to work out the details should you decide to see this show.
Worthy of note are Paul Hilton’s Matt and Enyi Okoronkwo’s Luke, Aly’s father and school friend respectively, both with excellent stage presence and ability to engage the audience. But while most musicals have at least some degree of repetitiveness, this one repeats and repeats to the point of irritation, almost as much as London Road, another National Theatre musical. The story is, at least, deep enough to consider whether a crime is still a crime if there are mitigating circumstances, though overall the show comes across as a bit lazy, with an abrupt (even if positive) ending.
I don’t think you necessarily have to be a frustrated and vexed teenage girl to find wonder.land a fascinating experience, but it certainly helps. For the rest of us, it’s a tad unexciting. It’s a determined effort, though, at demonstrating quite how much power that a smartphone app can hold, for good or for ill, over older people as well as teenagers in the modern world. Perhaps it’s a good show to bring teenagers to: the younger members of the audience were infinitely more responsive than their parents.
Review by Omaweng
A new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderland, by Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini.
Welcome to Wonder.Land, where you can be exactly who you want to be. Aly, 12, loves this extraordinary virtual world. Bullied at school and unhappy at home, Wonder.Land offers an escape.
Online, Aly becomes Alice: brave, beautiful and in control. But some of the people she meets – the weird Dum and Dee, the creepy Cheshire Cat, the terrifying Red Queen – seem strangely familiar. And as hard as Aly tries to keep them apart, real life and wonder.land begin to collide in ever more curious and dangerous ways.
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX
Age Restrictions: Reccomended for ages 10+.
Show Opened: 27th Nov 2015
Booking Until: 28th Feb 2016
Latecomers may be asked to wait in foyer until a suitable break in the performance