Presented by Neil Eckersley Productions at the Mayflower Theatre, two stories written by Lewis Caroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – were merged together in Lotte Wakenham’s musical production, Wonderland.
After being seated near the front of the stage, the first thing that we noticed is the mesmerising large curtain with the word ‘Wonderland’ printed across it.
Special effects and smoke machines brought the magic on the stage alive. We found the lighted heart in the centre of the ‘o’ in the word ‘Wonderland’ to be a nice touch. We quickly realised that Alice, who was played by Britain’s Got Talent’s finalist Rachael Wooding, was not a young child. She was a divorced mother with a daughter, Ellie, who was portrayed by Naomi Morris and who wishes to escape from reality and enter Wonderland.
We liked how the characters were introduced in a modern setting with a backdrop of looming grey flats. The transitions from reality to the world of madness was a visual spectacle while the characters dashed about on the stage, dancing and singing. Alice, Jack, and Ellie were dressed colourfully but the other characters wore colours of greys and blacks. After entering Wonderland there was colour, stripes, tartan, playing cards, school uniforms, jam tarts, and a disco-style tea-party table.
The stage lit up and came to life when we were being introduced to Wonderland through the song ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’. The spiralling effects made us feel as though we too were falling down the rabbit hole.
The caterpillar performed by Kayi Ushe was a perfect copycat of the caterpillar in Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland (1951). He was sassy and hilarious. His voice was strong and his dance moves, with the four dancers who represented his legs, were entertaining.
Another aspect we loved was how the Looking Glass was not physically a human character on stage. This character was instead voiced by John Finnemore and whenever he spoke, coloured lighting flashed. Everything was Wonderland-erific.
The hedge stage prop was inventive and unique. It did not look like a normal garden hedge but a hedge from Wonderland, as it was twisted, curved and had a doorway. The Hatter’s factory dungeon was also breath-taking as it reminded us of a spider web.
“10/10 WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND AND WATCH IT AGAIN.”
Our favourite character was the Cheshire cat represented by Dominic Owen. He captured the character perfectly; he was quirky and funny, as well as cat-like in his movements, his words, and through his facial expressions. Plus, there was a definite wow factor when he walked across the stage with his hands while he sang.
Another wonderful character was Jack, who was played by Stephen Webb. He was deliberately cheesy and had the persona of a boy-band singer star. We found it particularly funny when a character yelled out “We need a hero!” and he instantly launched himself onto the table. We applaud Frank Wildhorn’s music and Jack Murphy’s lyrics. All the songs were catchy and memorable with a mix of dance numbers and a duo between Alice and Jack. We thought the singer who struck us the most was Natalie McQueen who performed as the Mad Hatter. Her voice was strong and powerful, and suited the evil side of her character perfectly.
We found it to be a shame that sometimes the instruments drowned out the singing. Plus, on occasions, the bass was too high. This would then interfere with the speakers, causing them to vibrate which resulted in an annoying buzzing sound.
What could also be improved was the Queen of Heart’s costume, who was played by Coronation Street’s actress Wendi Peters. We felt it was too simple, lacked a certain ‘Wonderland-ness’, and could have been more elaborate and regal-like. However, the tiny crown was a nice touch.
The end scene brought the production together brilliantly. An opaque curtain parted the three main characters in the real world from the other characters in the Wonderland.
This musical was about noticing that what they had in front of them was what they wanted all along. We saw the progression of love stories between characters and the development of Alice’s and Ellie’s mother-daughter relationship.
Make sure you’re not late for this very important date. Catch Wonderland at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre NOW until Saturday 22nd April.