Thursday, 17 December 2015

Review: wonder.land at the National Theatre



wonder.land 
National Theatre (Olivier)
Reviewed on Wednesday 16th December 2015
★★★

Set in an avatar obsessed world, wonder.land is a modern day coming-of-age story delving into the differentiation between our online and offline lives.

Lois Chimimba stars as Aly who finds escapism from school bullies and family drama in an online world entitled wonder.land. The piece is strikingly relevant; I don't think a lot of people truly understand the level of stress technology puts upon younger people. 'Back in the day' you could avoid bullies by fleeing home to your parents after the school bell had rung, but in 2015 there's no escaping thanks to the virtual world which, accessible at the click of a button, can be a very dark place.

Anna Francolini (Ms. Manxome)
I had heard a lot of different opinions about wonder.land prior to taking my seat at the Olivier - it has certainly got people talking. The musical ran as part of the Manchester International Festival earlier this year prior to transferring to the National. Whilst inspired by Lewis Carroll's beloved story, it's important to remember that wonder.land is not an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. It's a new story in its own right so it's vital that the show is seen with an open mind. The references and resemblances in various characters is effective; I hugely admire the whole concept behind the show. 

An issue with wonder.land is that its target audience is perhaps too niche. I think this is the perfect show for a school trip or for a mother to take their teenage child to (I will certainly be telling a few people they must go), but I don't think the piece does enough to appeal to a wider audience. Younger teenagers will seek strength in Aly's journey towards self-acceptance; there are some genuinely inspiring moments. It's worth noting that wonder.land is not suitable for children under ten as there is some strong language and, as mentioned, 'teenage' themes. 

The score by Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini (who also wrote the book) is interesting; after watching the show once there aren't any songs I wanted to race home and download, but I thought some moments of the score matched the weird and wonderful style of the piece perfectly. Moving forward there is some reshaping to be done, but overall I quite liked the music. wonder.land just needs one or two defining, landmark numbers to be written which would take it up a notch.

Designers Rae Smith (set), Katrina Lindsay (costume), Paule Constable (lighting) and Paul Arditti (sound) clearly had a field day creating the virtual world which we see alongside 'normality'. I love the quirkiness and adore the creativity (the Caterpillar is quite something!). The whole brand identity is brilliant - the fact that the show's title wonder.land is also the URL to the official website is a marketing dream.


Carly Bawden (Alice) & Lois Chimimba (Aly)

Lois Chimimba does a terrific job; importantly she ensures Aly is portrayed as a relatable, everyday teenage girl. Taking over from Rosalie Craig as Alice is Carly Bawden who commendably brings heart to a virtual character, whilst pulling off a crazy pair of shoes. Elsewhere Anna Francolini doesn't hold back as evil headmistress Ms. Manxome; Francolini plays to the stereotype spectacularly and vocally lets rip during her songs which marked my favourite numbers in the score. The entire cast embrace the unique style and perform with great flair. 

The word 'interesting' sounds so dull, but wonder.land really is an interesting piece of theatre with a relevant point to make. It's not a show I would advise all my family and friends to see immediately, but for some wonder.land will provide a thought-provoking and empowering experience. I found myself sat forward on my seat watching the show in fascination. There is still some work to be done, but wonder.land is probably the most promising new musical I have seen for a while.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

wonder.land is booking at the National Theatre (Olivier) until Saturday 30th April 2016.


Photo Credit: Brinkhoff and Mögenburg

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