Book and lyrics by Moira Buffini
Directed by Rufus Norris
Starring: Lois Chimimba, Rosalie Craig, Anna Francolini, Paul Hilton, Golda Resheuvel, Enyi Okoronokwo, Sam Archer, Sam Mackay, Rob Compton
Alice (Lois Chimimba) is a 12 year old girl who loses herself in an online game called 'wonder.land', where she can hide her insecurities behind a princess avatar (Rosalie Craig) and leave the guilt she feels for her parents' divorce behind. Within the app, she is able to make the connections she is unable to forge in real life, with characters hidden behind an assortment of random avatars, including a dodo, a mock turtle in a box and an enormous patchwork bunny rabbit. But as she becomes all the more obsessed with overcoming the obstacles of her game, pursuing a blocky gas-masked white rabbit (Rob Compton) on an unending quest toward an idyllic cyber garden and coming to blows with the tyrants Dum (Sam Archer) and Dee (Sam MacKay) , she comes up against bullying in the real world, whilst trying to dodge having her phone confiscated at school by her malicious teacher, Ms Manxome (Anna Francolini). What follows is a multi-platform, multi-universe experience that explodes in a ferocious cloud of kitsch imagination.
Though definitely an experimental piece, at its heart wonder.land is still an all-singing all-dancing musical. With a full score of original songs it's delightfully refreshing to see a mass-appeal show that doesn't rely on the back-catalogue of some "legendary" pop group or other. But with Albarn's innate ear for a catchy hook at its helm, the music is fizzing with inventive numbers, merging show-stopping West End pizzazz with post-cyber techno stylings. Though maybe a little too reliant on reflective mid-tempo characterisation numbers, when the belters and the dancers are finally let loose, they certainly don't disappoint. And once all stops are pulled out both musically and visually, it feels like you're watching The Mouse And His Child, while one speaker plays a Broadway medley and another plays a Royksopp remix album.
In a world where every fairy story and every "classic" has had the life sucked out of it by scores of adaptations and "new angles", wonder.land is a refreshingly original version of a canonical standard that stays true to the story's heart, but brings it bubbling to new life again. It's easy to dismiss Alice In Wonderland as done to death, but Carroll's book was so inventive and fresh when first published that it would be a crime not to remember how truly original and how unabashedly crazy it has always been. While the Queen Of Hearts and the Mad Hatter are almost archetypal nowadays in their contrived kookiness, wonder.land reminds us of their original uniqueness, doffing its hat to a world seeped in Carrollian tweeness, while serving us Wonderland 2.0: a live-action, cyber utopian social media avatar playground. And who knew we needed that adaptation in our lives so much?