Wonder.Land at London’s Olivier Theatre Review
I had no idea what to expect from this new musical having not really heard any of Damon Albarn’s more recent forays into this genre. What we get with this collaboration with songs and book by Moira Buffini is a sometimes brilliant combination of clever word play, interesting subject matter and a balanced sound that enhances and complements the action and feel of the production.
Wonder.Land is a new take on the very well-known novel Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and on the year of its 150th anniversary it is as good a time as any to reinvent the classic, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century onto the stage.
Rufus Norris does an admirable job of directing what must have been a challenging production, bringing some clarity to the chaos which ensues on stage for the majority of the time. The trippy, colourful and immersive projections by 59 Productions and lighting of Paule Constable definitely enhance the action, in fact without them the show would be seriously lacking.
It is obvious from the start that a lot of money has been spent on the very technical elements of the production. The projections help to take us into Aly's virtual world where she is free from the bullying at school and pain of her home life and can become the beautiful, bold Alice. The characters she meets are often recognisable such as the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar, played by Hal Fowler, bringing some menace to proceedings. The show has a great ensemble cast who are suitably exuberant, but the limelight is stolen by Ms Manxome played by Anna Francolini whose evil streak and need for domination in and outside the virtual world are infectious.
The show at its core is about Aly finding herself and growing up. This it succeeds in achieving well. The one thing that lets the show down are the songs, which although adeptly scored by Albarn, never really come up with anything lyrically to complement. This is no more evident than in the song Charlie which goes around and around, but doesn't really go anywhere, but there is some clever rhyming and some of the songs are witty and charming, poignant even.
The show boasts an amazing installation on the floor below in which you can immerse yourself in Wonder.Land before or after the show. There are a number of immersive technological gadgets for you to enjoy which makes the whole production feel more experiential and personally engaging. I give it 4 stars.