How many times have we stepped into Wonderland? How many times will we visit Wonderland before each trip to the Mad Hatters tea party becomes as sterile as a tea break at work? And how many angles can you truly give the story without being too far removed from it all? From animation to freaky stop motion taxidermy, we’ve had it all, so how does this musical rendition of the classic story set itself apart from all the madness that has gone before?
Wonderland changes a number of elements from the off, with Alice no longer being the curious child, but a single 40-year-old working mum who wants to escape her mundane life for something with a little wonder. The council flat setting offers a suitably bleak contrast between our world and Wonderland, though once the main cast, Alice, her naive daughter, and borderline stalker love interest descend down the rabbit hole such a contrast is lost. Everything is lost.
You see, Wonderland is a powerful place, a place in which people have tea parties all day long, the Queen of Hearts enjoys nothing more than lopping off heads, and a smoking caterpillar and grinning Cheshire cat are a common occurrence. Much like other variations of Alice in Wonderland, these characters quickly take centre stage, with Alice herself often wandering around in the corners of it all.
Her daughter takes more of a prominent role after taking a trip through the looking-glass, and when it comes to Alice, it might make you start wondering about who she actually is in the story, in the same way people like to sing that Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown song when flat-out drunk on the street at lunch time.
There is also singing, being a musical and all, but each number lacks a hook, just playing away to fill up time and pump a little energy into proceedings. By the numbers is one way to put it, innocent is another, though when you’re dealing with such characters as the Mad Hatter and a dormouse who likes nothing better than crashing down onto the stage to get some shut-eye, well innocent doesn’t really do the source material much justice.
When Alice is somewhere else, and when the music is muted, things are fairly entertaining, with enough tweaks here and there to the formula to make things interesting. Whenever the residents of Wonderland are doing what they do best, being completely mad, it works, but the madness isn’t contagious, creating another contrast outside of the bleak real world setting and Wonderland. The audience and the show itself.