David Willetts’ softly-spoken White Rabbit doesn’t fall down a hole in Wonderland, Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd’s musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s books. Instead he uses a broken lift, which whisks those who don’t want to live in the real world down to Wonderland, where Wendi Peters’ splendidly splenetic Queen of Hearts can chop off their heads and make them reside there for ever.
With Kerry Ellis as Alice – 40, divorced and not letting go of her manipulative ex – the clear-voiced Naomi Morris as her sensible daughter Ellie, and Stephen Webb as lovelorn downstairs neighbour Jack, this production contains plenty of vocal joy. Frank Wildhorn’s music certainly never sounds less than impressive, but it’s rather musical-by-numbers in format.
The elements are all lined up for glory, and the production hints at great things. The descent into a despotic authoritarianism based on stupidity of the Mad Hatter (a strutting and powerfully-voiced Natalie McQueen) and Alice’s realisation that her ex was a bullying, misogynistic loser in Once More I Can See are powerful moments in themselves.
Yet for all the set-piece success, director Lotte Wakeham never overcomes the structural faffing around or the indecision of the book over what it wants to be. Nor is Robert Hudson’s thorough UK adaptation for this European premiere ever used to flesh out the hinted at contemporary resonances.
Andrew Riley’s set, a simple receding hole effectively lit in suitably gaudy style by Nick Richings, is clunky but Grace Smart’s costumes provide a superb nod to the source material.