The National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme offers £5 tickets – for every performance of every production – to people aged 16-25. This means that I have seen a lot there. It also means that I have seen a lot there while knowing very little about it beforehand, because £5 and a couple of hours of my time is a very low risk indeed.
The scheme also offers the opportunity to bring a friend in the same age bracket, for £7.50. This can be very useful when booking, as it guarantees seats together, so Lauren and I often take advantage of this. She told me a few months ago that she’d booked us tickets for wonder.land. I didn’t know anything about it, looked it up and said “ok”. We went to the National Theatre Christmas Quiz (it’s not Christmas without the NT quiz), and one of the teams was from the wonder.land cast. They were great, so I was excited to see the show. But I still didn’t know much about it, other than it was a reimagining of Alice In Wonderland, and Damon Albarn (from Blur) did the music.
So when we turned up on Monday night to see it, I had no expectations at all, really. I hadn’t realised it was a musical, or that it was in the Olivier – the largest of the National Theatre’s three permanent theatres – and we were in the front row (entry pass seats are almost always amazing).
It was brilliant, so so much fun. In this reimagining, Wonderland is not underground, but is a videogame: wonder.land. Aly – played by the amazing Lois Chimimba – is struggling at school, being bullied, and suffering from her parents’ breakup, so the game, where she can be someone else, is the perfect escape. While her avatar looks like the Disney Alice In Wonderland we all know (though with creepy heel-less shoes that made me feel for the actress’s ankles), the other players’ avatars take a range of forms, including a Dodo and and enormous Mouse. The Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, and MC are all played by Hal Fowler, and as MC he has a similar, though sparklier, look to Jim Broadbent’s Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge. He appears, at one point, in a gold suit, riding a hoverboard, which made me giggle and is still popping into my head yelling “w w w dot wonder dot laaand”. Aly’s escape into wonder.land is jeopardised when her phone is confiscated by her new headmistress, Ms Manxome – Anna Francolini is incredible in this role, and I look forward to seeing her in more.
The set is cleverly done: the play between reality and the videogame is done well, without feeling contrived or awkward, and employs some very clever techniques and use of lighting. There are also a lot of driven pieces, including an enormous teapot, a desk, and a train of supermarket cages. Some of the music, I felt, was rather clunky and unfinished-sounding, but other parts were better and, to be fair, there are usually weak links in musicals. What is often missing, however, is a premise as ambitious and exciting as this one.
While a lot of reviews seem to be pretty negative, I loved it. I came out feeling a little drunk, having laughed so much, and thought it was an interesting play on a very familiar story (I was given a lot of copies of it as a child). Besides, anything that features dancing zombies and that much glitter is, in my book, probably a good thing.
wonder.land is playing at the National Theatre until the end of April, see here for more information