This is a bold, colourful production, bursting with an energetic, sharply-focused cast
Alice is 40, divorced, and newly unemployed; she’s oblivious to the attentions of her forlorn neighbour Jack, and instead waits for her manipulative ex-husband to come back and save her. Wanting to give up the real world, she instead discovers Wonderland—not out of boredom or curiosity, but to rescue her young teenage daughter Ellie, who has unfortunately followed a judiciously mannered White Rabbit down the liftshaft.
Sadly, though, this potentially powerful maternal motivation is almost immediately squandered by an immediate reunion with Ellie, leaving the show then to rely on self-described fortune cookie homilies about finding yourself and an agitprop narrative against the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts (“The Queen is just one person and we are everyone else,” Alice naively argues at one point) that would’ve made 1980s Militant activists blush at the unsubtly of it all. Not that the show even holds tightly onto this conflict; instead, there’s a big swerve into the consequences of the now-female Mad Hatter becoming a tyrant the equal of the Queen of Hearts. “That’s how Power works,” we’re told repeatedly. But only in Wonderland—as this is a show which avoids having any relevance to the outside world.
All of which might rather suggest that Wonderland is a bad show; far from it. A clear advantage of ageing the character of Alice is that it enables the director to cast a highly experienced performer in the role, and Kerry Ellis hits all the notes, both vocally and dramatically. That said, she has no time to relax while sharing the stage with either Natalie McQueen’s strutting Queenie-like Mad Hatter or the rotund delights of Wendi Peters’ all-too-briefly seen Queen of Hearts. This is a bold, colourful production, bursting with an energetic, sharply-focused cast including several stand-out performances among its ensemble. (Keep an eye out for Toyan Thomas-Browne, whose balletic grace and lightness is a joy; as well as the guileless physicality which Ben Kerr brings to the March Hare.)
All the same, when any show labours the point of character self-realisation with several songs—I Am My Own Invention, This is Who I Am, and Finding Wonderland for example—it’s either dramatic overkill or a desperate attempt to knock La Cage aux Folles’ I Am What I Am off the top of the gay anthem charts. And, sorry—that’s just not going to happen any time soon.