Palace Theatre, Manchester – until 12 July 2015
National Theatre, London – from 27 November 2015
Wonder.land is a brand new musical, directed by Rufus Norris, that is being performed as part of the Manchester International Festival. Taking its inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland, the new musical tells the story of Aly, a young teen who battles with bullies at school and struggles to find happiness at home with her mother and baby brother ‘cabbage pants’ Charlie. Aly is unable to look to her father for support either, as although he loves her dearly, he is addicted to online gambling.
Aly finds her solace in Wonder.land, an immersive, technicolour online world where “you can be exactly who you want to be”, which in Aly’s case is a brave and beautiful avatar named Alice, a blue-eyed blond who looks like she has just stepped out of the looking glass.
Damon Albarn has created the weird and wonderful soundtrack for this musical – combining the familiar feel of signature Albarn with a wondrous dose of otherworldliness. Furthermore, the lyrics by Moira Buffini feel natural and unforced, full of wit – littered with references to the Lewis Carroll’s classic novel but still made relevant and accessible to a contemporary audience.
Rae Smith’s design is a highlight – capturing the grey and mundane urban grit of the city and the chaos and vibrancy of wonder.land and aided by projections by 59 Productions and lighting by Paule Constable, the transition between the two worlds is remarkably smooth. As hard as Aly, charmingly played by Lois Chimimba, tries to keep the two worlds separate, the boundaries between real life and wonder.land seem to ‘blur’ into one.
With mischievous and intricate costume design by Katrina Lindsay, the show is well cast with all members giving strong performances. Rosalie Craig as Alice has a wonderful singing voice and moves convincingly as an avatar; Golda Rosheuvel as single mother Bianca and Paul Hilton as online gambler Matt, also impress as parents at odds with each other. Anna Francolini gives as outstanding and highly comical performance as Ms Manxome, a vibrato singing, technophobe high school teacher who can’t abide ‘bad odours, weird artwork and phones’.
Just like Aly, sometimes when the real world gets all too mundane and we need to escape, we can all find our own wonder.land on our smartphone screen, leading us down a rabbit hole into an extraordinary new world. Wonder.land is a brilliant, relevant and modern take on Lewis Carroll’s classic novel and an enveloping experience for your senses.
Wonder.land is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until 19th July. Following its premiere in Manchester, it will visit the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre in November before travelling to the Théatre du Chatalet in Paris in 2016.