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wonder.land

Published 11 December 2015

What’s it all about?

First taking audiences into its techno-fantasy at the Manchester International Festival this summer, this is the Damon Albarn, Rufus Norris and Moira Buffini-created musical. Taking Alice In Wonderland as its starting point it leaps into a psychedelic world of avatars, social media, MMORPGs and screen obsession.

Don’t go expecting a faithful adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Many of the larger than life characters are here – White Rabbit, Red Queen, Tweedles Dum and Dee – but they’re there in new guises to help troubled schoolgirl Aly find her own truth in an online game.

Who’s in it?

While the headline grabber of the show is composer Albarn – you can tell it’s the Blur frontman’s work from the very first bar – this should be a breakout role for Lois Chimimba. Encountering everything from school bullies and disciplinarian teachers to giant caterpillars and a swarm of zombies, she finds the simple truth in a schoolkid trying to come to terms with life and who they are.

As Chimimba delivers truth and Golda Rosheuvel wears every inch of struggle, love, fear, compassion and frustration as her mum, other cast members go gloriously OTT.

Hal Fowler puts one in mind of The Fast Show’s Swiss Tony in gold lamé as the show’s unhinged MC, the guardian of wonder.land, and Anna Francolini very nearly steals the show as a head teacher who descends into despotism.

What should I look out for?

The design. The team of Rae Smith, 59 Productions, Katrina Lindsay and Paule Constable have created one of the most striking visual treats of the year. The life-sapping greyness of normal life gives way to the invigorating technicolour and imagination of wonder.land. The Cheshire Cat is an enticing, ominous, seductive, dangerous projection. The caterpillar is a fabulous seven-piece performance. There’s a chorus line of zombies! It’s sensational.

In a nutshell?

Wonder.land is wonder.ful. A visual feast to tell a simple story of finding yourself in the digital age.

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Will I like it?

So far I’ve written this with no mention of drugs – even though Albarn includes a song called “Everyone loves Charlie” (Charlie’s actually Aly’s little brother) – but this is trippy stuff. So were Carroll’s novels, so that shouldn’t be surprising.

But amid the neon purples, lime greens, giant mice, superhero dodos and buff white rabbits of the design sit Albarn and Buffini’s soulful songs about knowing yourself, dreaming and escape, along with the universal tale of search for acceptance, given a digital makeover.

Touching, inclusive, imaginative; watching it made me as happy as a hatter at a tea party.

Wonder.land is booking at the National Theatre until 30 April. If you can’t wait to go through the looking glass, you can book wonder.land tickets up to 28 February through us here.  

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