Wonderland Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
“That’s how power works.”
No puns, wordplay or poetry are embraced in this curious take on a grown-up Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s adventures centre on themes of identity, innocence and death.Toying with boundaries and conventions as Alice struggles to make sense of the new world around her.
Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd's modern remixing of Alice’s adventures are set on an estate where wannabe writer, Alice and daughter Ellie have started on the “Worst Day”. It is clear from the song that Alice has been reworked with a status and sense of self that has hit an all-time low. Having had her car stolen, been fired and left Ellie to find food, Alice proceeds to ignore her helpful neighbour, Jack (Stephen Webb) and question why her ex-husband divorced her. It is a relief when White Rabbit (David Willetts) pops through the family’s desk and shows the women (and Jack) the way to Wonderland via a broken lift.
The problem with Wonderland is the added weight it carries. Three members travel to the “bonkers” world, presenting Wonderland as a real place. While the original text has the luxury of one character questioning life through meaningless puzzles, a loss of innocence and a looming fear of death. Wonderland has been seized by three superficial characters, replacing any real threats with a cartoonish vision that makes Disney’s animated world look far more menacing.
A story of self-discovery through the Looking Glass split between four characters feels rushed and makes little sense in terms of plot. Wonderlands nonsensical rules are pushed to breaking point as the characters explain that having your head cut off for the first time is a rite of passage, allowing you to remain in Wonderland forever.
Superb singers Kerry Ellis, Natalie McQueen and Wendy Peters belt out performances of Hail the Queen, I Will Prevail and This is Who I Am. Unfortunately, this only draws attention to the material, most of which could have been lifted from any musical. The pop ballads quickly become monotonous as smoke fills the stage, engulfing the audience in another blanket pseudo-inspirational track.
Familiar characters appear stating “I’m a cat”, “I’m late” and “life is like a caterpillar” but their simplistic roles fail to fill a void in the plot. Little development is made and many characters become irrelevant as the story struggles to move.
Lewis Carroll’s world was a false Eden, forcing Alice to question her life and expectations. Wonderland is a shallow reflection on life and a painful waste of great source material.