Wonder.land review at the National Theatre

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

It was a timeless question posed to Alice in 1865, a theme to a fairytale that has since inspired millions of lives and been transformed into as many different forms of media as you could possibly shake a hookah-pipe smoking caterpillar at. But what happens when you reinvent the exquisite beauty of Lewis Carroll’s well loved piece of literature by combining it with the diverse musical brilliance of Blur’s Damon Alburn?

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You find yourself on the other side of the looking glass, in wonder.land

Wonder.land is a musical that quickly impresses; a well-written and immersive quest bringing the classic story onto a modern platform. Our heroine Ally escapes the pressures of her teenage life by spending all her time on her smart phone, where she discovers wonder.land, an online game with no rules. In the game Ally seeks to change everything about herself by creating an avatar called “Alice” with pale blond hair, blue eyes and a little blue dress. The created Alice is indeed beautiful, but looks nothing at all like our gorgeous, mixed race and afro-puff sporting heroine.

We soon learn that Ally is struggling to cope with all the secrets she is keeping, secrets that tell the story of her life, and her “broken glass” family. These themes are addressed in a humorous and candid fashion, and it can only be a good thing. Ally’s tale is one common to our generation, when bullying, how “liked” you are, and even friendship has shifted from the school playground and into cyber space. It’s no surprise when Ally’s creation, Alice, arrives in wonder.land and is asked the critical question, “Who are you?” as her quest begins.

Initially, the stark simplicity of the stage and the set leaves the audience to be completely won over by the talent of the cast, and we are captivated. Lois Chimimba (Ally) gives a brilliant performance of utterly believable teenage angst, and Golda Rosheuvel(Ally’s mother) had me awestruck with her voice despite waddling about the stage in her frumpy mummy clothing whilst hip-coddling the baby Charlie. The duets between Offline-Ally and Online-Alice are beautiful, and Alice’s digital replication of Ally is both funny and thought provoking. The bullies are as witty and appalling as you’d expect them to be, the head-mistress is terrifying, Ally’s father suitably embarrassing, and her best friend is a worthy side-kick. Everything adds up spectacularly well, kudos to Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris’ storytelling and input. The result is an instant success with the audience.

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But the show goes to a whole other level when Ally falls down the rabbit hole and wonder.land is brought to life with the use of captivating visual effects that are right at home with our digital generation. There were times when we didn’t know where to look. The visual effects would be in full swing, the orchestra and band reaching a new crescendo, and the singing, the dancing, witty lines, and extravagant costumes would all be playing on our senses at once. Special mention to the conductor on his piano, we loved your energy! The imagination of the creative team who pull this show together is on the level with Lewis Carroll himself.  It’s worth noting that our favourite special-effect was the spell-binding Cheshire Cat, while the clever costume which constructed the caterpillar came in a hot second.

Where wonder.land really got me personally was at an emotional level. I’d like to think I’ve long outgrown my teenage angst, but there was so much written into the fabric of the show that I identified with. Despite throwing these issues into an extraordinary environment, they were very real, and well addressed. Needless to say, we left thoroughly entertained on all levels. Initial show run is through until the end of April, and tickets are mostly gone for the remainder of 2015, so best seat availability is in the new year. Prices start from £15. Wonder.land is suitable for ages 10 and up, due to the exploration of teenage issues and a smattering of strong language, and we strongly believe that everyone of age will fall in love with the show, so get down to the National Theatre and login to wonder.land now! 

Article by J R Manawa

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