WONDERLAND is on a UK tour, with just a few nights at the equally wonderful New Wimbledon Theatre – an Edwardian West End edifice in the suburbs. To be as full as it was on a Wednesday night is heartening confirmation that a good musical continues to pull in a good crowd, even away from the tourist attractions of the West End. How good was this musical?
To judge from its reception last night, very good indeed. The entire audience rose to its feet at the end of the show, to give the cast a standing ovation. And to be sure, the sets were brilliant, deftly depicting the drab real world and the fantasy land into which Alice ventures. The choreography was great, the costumes excellent, the songs well sung. Eye-catching moments included the Cheshire Cat singing while walking on his hands with his feet in the air, while the Caterpillar’s feet were amusingly portrayed by a train of leggy dancers in his wake.
This grumpy old reviewer was not completely gruntled, however. Great liberties had been taken with the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, into which the mirror from Through the Looking Glass had been interpolated. Of course, each generation will have its own take on the story. To 1960s hippies, the substances ingested by Alice and the Caterpillar suggested psychedelic drugs, as the Jefferson Airplane famously sang in their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow. In this latest version, however, the story begins in a drab modern high-rise block. Alice is a 40-something mother, who gave up her job as a teacher to please her husband. He has now left her for another woman, she has lost her job, and she is definitely low in the self-esteem stakes. Also lumbered with low self-worth ratings are her timid teenage daughter and her equally timid neighbour, who fancies her.
Sounds like a cue for a self-help manual? The downcast threesome are given a more lively lesson in learning to love themselves by being plunged into the magical world of Wonderland. There a transformation takes place. The teenage daughter gets attitude, the shy geek becomes a new man (in both senses of the word), and Alice emerges as a strong and confident woman. A feminist fable? Possibly …
What the heck! Musicals are supposed to make you feel good, and to judge by their reaction last night, this one certainly had that effect on the audience. You won’t have long to catch the show in Wimbledon, but check it out if it comes your way.