Where was the wonder in Wonderland?

Kerry Ellis and Stephen Webb in Wonderland
Kerry Ellis and Stephen Webb in Wonderland

Theatre review by Hannah Richardson

The story of Alice in Wonderland offers so much potential for a stage show, by way of story, colour, energy and eccentricity, so it’s a shame that this musical version turned out to be so, well, drab.

Kayi Ushe as Caterpillar

Kayi Ushe as Caterpillar

Wonderland, which is on tour at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday night, is billed as “an enchanting musical adaption of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass”.

In this modern-day version of the Alice in Wonderland story, Alice is a depressed single mum, played by Kerry Ellis, living in a block of flats with teenage daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris).

By following the White Rabbit into the dodgy apartment block lift, they end up in Wonderland.

Again, so many possibilities, but so disappointing. Wonderland... the name says it all, and yet the set was drab and dull.

Wendi Peters as the Queen of Hearts

Wendi Peters as the Queen of Hearts

The choreography was lacklustre and at times almost non-existent, and the ensemble seemed inexperienced and disjointed.

The characters in Lewis Carroll’s books are larger than life version many of the costumes and characters were dull, with just a few brightly coloured standout roles, notably Kayi Ushe as the Caterpillar, Wendi Peters as the Queen of Hearts and Natalie McQueen as the Mad Hatter.

The songs were unmemorable and a lot of the singing painfully shouty.

One interesting theme was that characters going through the looking glass emerge changed into their alter egos.

So goody-two-shoes sensible teenager Ellie morphs, superbly, into a typical grungy, moody teenager.

Boring boy-next-door overlooked love interest Jack emerges as a rock star, and dipsy but likeable Mad Hatter returns as a dictatorial psychopath.

So what would happen to the utterly irritating Alice when she finally plucked up the courage to go through?

Sadly, the answer seemed to be a better frock and some really great boots. I guess the idea is that she is also a bit more assertive, but to be honest, coming from such a drippy starting place, it was still pretty unimpressive.

The blurb calls the show: “an adventurous exploration of who we are, who we want to be and the power of everyday magic in our lives”.

Clearly the aim is to turn the Alice story into an personal development journey, but it’s all rather new-age and infantile. Alice has to learn to... wait for it... love herself, and then everything will work out right in the end. Yawn. Pass the self-help manual.

In the interests of fairness, I ought to say that other members of the audience did clearly enjoy the show, a few of them standing up for the curtain call.

Box office: 0844 871 7652 or see www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes