Most people are familiar with Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its numerous adaptations, yet Frank Wildhern’s multi-award nominated musical adaptation, Wonderland, is not one of the greatest interpretations. After sold out performances in the United States and Tokyo, Wonderland began its 30 venue UK tour at the Edinburgh Playhouse.
In this modern retelling, Alice is a single mum living in a high rise housing block somewhere in England with her teenage daughter Ellie. We meet Alice on her 40th birthday which quickly turns into the ‘Worst Day’ as she not only gets fired from her job as a travel agent, but also has her car stolen, and discovers that her ex-husband is getting remarried. Hung up on her ex and unhappy with her life, Alice declares that she no longer wishes to live in the real world, prompting the White Rabbit to appear who leads Alice, Ellie and their upstairs neighbour Jack to Wonderland.
Once in Wonderland, all of the traditional characters begin to appear, including the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter. However, the central message of Wonderland is to embrace who you really are, which can be accomplished by going through the looking glass. Whilst Ellie comes out as a typical stroppy teenager and Jack becomes a stereotypical ‘hunky’ singer, Alice is initially reluctant to go through the looking glass. Afraid of becoming the person her ex-husband told her she was, will Alice ever pursue her dream of becoming a writer and return to the real world?
Whilst the plot was particularly bland to begin with, it is made worse by the interpretation of Alice who is a particularly passive and whiny character. Played by Kerry Ellis, Alice says on numerous occasions that she’s a damsel who needs to be rescued and even after going through the looking glass, Alice doesn’t appear sufficiently different despite all her talk about wanting women to value themselves. Even the girl-power duet sang by Alice and the Mad Hatter, ‘This Is Who I Am,’ doesn’t really do much to convince the audience that Alice has changed much, and seems slightly random. However, the faults with Alice were largely due to the constraints of the character and the script rather than Ellis’ performance, who demonstrated during the songs that she had the vocals worthy of the part.
Although I hoped that the musical numbers would make up for the deficiencies with the overall plot, I was once again disappointed. None of the songs were particularly catchy apart from ‘Wonderland,’ and ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ just seemed a little bizarre considering they went down a lift to get to Wonderland, however I could be being particularly picky.
The one part of the show which cannot be faulted was the incredibly talented cast, who were unfortunately just let down by a poor script and a lot of the characters suffered from a lack of development. Natalie McQueen’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter was particularly noteworthy, although she did fail to play a convincing villain, her vocals were absolutely incredible. Other particularly noteworthy performances were given by Kayi Ushe as the Caterpillar, whose performance of ‘Who Are You?’ left the audience mesmerised.
In addition to the talented cast, the efforts of the creative team did not go unnoticed as there was a nice contrast between the black and white real world and the technicolour world of Wonderland demonstrated through the lighting and set designs. This made it easy to believe why the characters in Wonderland all chose to remain in that magical world rather than return to reality.
Despite the talented cast and various aspects of the production design, this was not enough to make up for the thin and bland plot laced with mediocre songs. Unfortunately, Wonderland is not a show I see having huge success after the end of its UK tour in August 2017.