Wonderland at Hampstead Theatre
Set in both the dark underbelly of a Nottinghamshire mine and in the cold light of the conservative political scene of the 70s, Wonderland explores the complex subject of the miners’ strikes.
The first thing to be said about this production is that it’s big budget. Set in the round, director Edward Hall has gone all out on the setting. A huge mining lift dominates the centre of the stage, used to emphasise the difference between the working-class, masculine world of the pits and the effeminate and extravagant lives of the politicians calling the shots above ground.
The first half focuses mainly on the underground world which, dominated by mental and physical strength, is where the miners go about their lives with a large amount of pride. Beth Steel’s script is often slightly stereotypical, with sexist overtones and caricatures of vulgar humour. Although the strong relationships between the characters are touching and the banter occasionally funny, the first half seems to drag its heels slightly, leaving the audience waiting for the action.
The second half sees the show pick up pace dramatically as we witness the miners struggle against the politicians in the war against pit closures. The miners are pushed to the limit and the cracks begin to appear as the politicians and police back them further into a corner.
The acting in this production is what really brings it to life, with each character being completely three-dimensional and individual. Ben-Ryan Davies in particular deserves a special mention for his lively portrayal of Jimmy, an energetic and slightly naïve newcomer. Davies is fresh from LAMDA but is clearly an emerging talent. Nigel Betts, who plays the Union frontman Bobbo is subtle and by far the most believable character on the stage. The slightly insane Colonel is played by Paul Brennan who, despite being thrown some melodramatic lines, still manages to portray the dedication and pride of the pit manager.
Ultimately, any show about the miners’ strikes is going to come to a bleak conclusion. Wonderland is no exception, yet it still has you on tenterhooks throughout the second half. Despite the occasional melodrama and lengthy first half, the show is still a thrilling and emotive piece of work.
Wonderland is at Hampstead Theatre until 26th July 2014. For more information or to book tickets visit the theatre’s website here.
Meet the cast of Wonderland in the video here: