Saturday 11th July 2015
Manchester Palace Theatre
As 2015 is the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's famous novel Alice in Wonderland, it seemed only fitting that one of the centre pieces of this year's Manchester International Festival was a new musical inspired by this classic story.
With a creative team including Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris, wonder.land truly brings Alice, The Mad Hatter, The Cheshire Cat and all of the iconic characters crashing into the 21st century, but that is where the similarities end; this is a truly modern adaptation for a modern day, tech-savvy audience.
One of the stand out features of this new show are the visual effects. From the moment Aly first logs in to wonder.land you are transported to a magical, almost hedonistic world of vivid colours, ethereal visions and enchanting ideas that hold your attention from start to finish. Contrast this with the drab, dark world which Aly and her family inhabit, and you can't help but see one of the many appeals of this virtual world. The large screen at the back of the stage brings a number of scenes to life as well as giving life to a number of memorable characters. Seeing Rosalie Craig as Alice being part of a video game style chase sequence against said screen, as well as the appearance of the Cheshire Cat, were two spectacles I will certainly never forget.
With such a technically precise show, you need to have a strong cast to do justice to the storytelling, and this cast have that talent in spades! Lois Chimimba (Aly) brings a fragility to the opening of the show and you really emotionally invest in her struggle to find a balance between her reality and the virtual reality she so craves for. By the time the show ends, you truly feel lifted and satisfied by the outcome, and that is down to Chimimba's emotive performance.
Rosalie Craig (Alice) - returning to the Manchester International Festival after being a part of Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth in 2013 - is an absolute joy to behold as Aly's computer-generated image. Her comic timing is second to none and, just like Chimimba, she manages to move brilliantly between the comedy and sadness that this story requires. Her onstage relationship with Chimimba and Anna Francolini are both brilliant to watch, especially as they head into act two and, quite frankly, anyone who can stand for that long in heels like THAT needs the respect of every single person in the theatre world! It's true - Rosalie can truly do anything!
Speaking of Anna Francolini, she is absolutely outstanding as the manipulative Headteacher! With her hatred of children and her close to the mark quips about issues such as dyslexia, Ms Manxome could certainly give Ms Trunchbull a run for her money. She was a perfect match for Lois Chimimba's Aly as the battle between good and evil ran effortlessly through the play. In fact, the entire cast moved beautifully around the stage and the two different worlds with such ease and grace, which made some abstract plot moments more easily understandable.
It must be said that a huge testament to the wide reaching appeal of this unique production could clearly be seen in the audience members that filled the Palace Theatre, both on the day I attended and throughout the run. This really was a family production, and despite being most appropriate for ages 10 or older (as suggested by the programme), there are messages and morals that even the oldest family members could relate to. The production also raises a lot of questions about our own society and technology in particular; it certainly made me wonder about several habits I have when it comes to my mobile phone and social media.
Ahead of a transfer to the National Theatre in November and then a move to Paris next year, the production and creative team are continually looking to make this brand new production the best it can possibly be. And I will say this for sure - if they judge it correctly, the rough diamond that is wonder.land could be the newest shining star in the National Theatre's already illustrious history.
Reviewed by Olivia Edmonds (guest reviewer)