Wonderland at New Wimbledon TheatreCultureTheatre
Borrowing from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a surefire way to attract attention. Unfortunately, many creative ventures using the novel’s characters fail to meet the expectations raised. The familiar elements naturally resonate with many, but when the frame of the original is used to lure audiences without any solid and imaginative ideas around it, the result is bound to be disappointing. The musical Wonderland first opened in the US in 2009, hitting Broadway in 2011. Each time it struggled to run for more than a month, in spite of continuous changes to the plot and score. Now readapted by Robert Hudson, the show is given a chance in the UK as it tours across 30 venues, with Lotte Wakeman as a director.
Set in modern-day Britain, the story begins by a block of flats where Alice (Kerry Ellis), a 40-year-old single mother, lives with her daughter Ellie. In a very short space of time, Alice learns that her ex-husband is due to re-marry, that her car has been stolen and that she is being sacked from her job. Her wish to escape the real world is taken literally by a white rabbit who magically appears in her flat. Alice, Ellie and their neighbour Jack enter a magical land where they meet a number of outlandish characters concerned with their own inner politics.
The shaky foundations of the plot are only dispersed further by a sloppy direction. There is something forced about the performance at large as the stage directions often seem to elicit exaggerated movements with static stretches in between. Most performers look uncomfortable both in the over-acting as well as when awkwardly waiting for their next intervention. The problematic factor at the root is that the characters, and thus the actors, clearly lack purpose, making the piece a sequence of dialogues and songs that do not gel together.
The musical numbers are designed to show off the performers’ vocals, but none of the songs are memorable. The production struggles to find a tone and oscillates between attempts at humour, weak motivational subplots and deliberately cheesy moments. The set consists of three arches of decreasing size that form a receding hole framed with LED lights, and it is overall underwhelming. From the very start, the high-rise building in the background does the opposite of setting up a magical atmosphere, and the descent into Wonderland via an out-of-service lift is far from enchanting.
The highlight of the show is Kayi Ushe’s performance as the Caterpillar, which is both amusing and alluring. The rest is certainly bizarre, but in the wrong ways. This musical may well fulfil some people’s desire for mindless entertainment, and its style did please a few in the audience. Ultimately, however, the messy plot and lack of substance means that Wonderland has no lasting power, and a tour may be the only to keep it running for a longer stretch of time.
Photo: Wonderland Facebook
Wonderland is at New Wimbledon Theatre from 2nd until 6th May 2017 before continuing its UK tour, for further information or to book visit here.