|Image Source: Liverpool Echo|
Date: June 12 2017
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre
Wonderland merges the stories of Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass, as well as adding some additional elements of its own, to create a story which aims to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.
In Wonderland, Alice (Kerry Ellis) is now 40-years-old, but her 40th birthday is hardly an occasion worth celebrating, as she is fired from her job. Upset at this, and disillusioned about her (unseen) husband leaving her years before, she and her daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris) both agree that they wish they could escape the real world and change their lives completely. That's when they get a visit from the mysterious White Rabbit (Dave Willett) who manages to transport them and their friend Jack (Stephen Webb), who comes on the scene almost by accident but who soon falls in love with Alice.
Wonderland, as the name (and the original stories which inspired this show) suggests, is a wild and wacky place full of amazing scenery, bizarre characters and an experience which embraces the weird and wonderful. It isn't perfect, though, because the Mad Hatter (Michelle Pentecost) lives up to her name and is bonkers as she looks to abuse her level of power, second only to the dictatorship of the Queen Of Hearts (Wendi Peters), whose desire to chop people's heads off is second only to her love of jam tarts. Alice, Ellie and Jack quickly adore their new surroundings, but only by jumping through the Looking Glass can they truly become a part of Wonderland. This becomes a struggle for Alice, who is 50/50 about taking the leap, but even on the other side, struggles with the Mad Hatter and the Queen Of Hearts await, which puts them not only in a position where they may not be able to leave Wonderland, but whether they can survive in their new surroundings.
There are plenty of musical moments throughout the show, with more than a dozen original songs. However, it's the vocal performances rather than the songs themselves which I felt stood out. In particular, Kayi Ushe (who plays the Caterpillar) is a stunning singer, as he proves when performing Advice From A Caterpillar, and Wendi Peters reminds us about her range of skills during performances of Hail The Queen and Off With Their Heads. The likes of Kerry Ellis and Naomi Morris also perform their songs well, but it was their acting, comedic timing and ability to jump between facial expressions, moods and tones which made them perfect candidates to play Alice and Ellie respectively.
I really liked the costumes; everyone from White Rabbit to Caterpillar to the Mad Hatter looks larger than life, off-the-wall and as colourful and extravagant as you could imagine, which should keep the kids interested as the characters which they will only have previously read about leap off the pages and take control of the stage in front of them. The scenery was largely kept simple but ensured that we were truly transported into Wonderland, the best part being the super-sized Looking Glass, which even spoke (via a voiceover from John Finnemore)! Lastly, the lighting was very colourful, changing between moods and scenes, and seamlessly helping to capture the emotions of the moments on stage at specific points of the show.
In terms of downsides, I felt that the story was occasionally hard to follow; the entrance into Wonderland is obvious, but whilst longtime fans of Alice will know that it's coming, the desire to return home isn't acknowledged until very late in the show, meaning that the show sometimes feels like it has no direction during the second half. Plus, it took me a few minutes into Act II to realise that we were watching the "new" Alice via her jump into the Looking Glass (sorry for the spoiler), and Jack's involvement seemed a bit random in the early going. Although there's plenty of over-the-top characters, I'm not sure if the feelings of magic and fantasy are strong enough to capture the minds of those children who will have never seen Alice before; I think that for the kids, they would have to know the stories of Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass to truly appreciate this production, rather than approaching it with no prior knowledge of Alice and her past adventures. Nevertheless, none of these have a major effect on one's enjoyment of the show.
Summing it up, then, Wonderland is a satisfying and entertaining night of family theatre with a combination of colourful characters, crazy story arcs, eye-catching costumes, stunning lighting and strong performances, all of which makes it a fine option to take the young 'uns along to this summer.
Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good