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Wonderland review at Edinburgh Playhouse – ‘less than the sum of its parts’

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.

Verdict
Intriguing musical updating of Alice in Wonderland that is less than the sum of its parts

Production Information

Production
Wonderland
Venue
Edinburgh Playhouse
City
Edinburgh
Starts
January 20, 2017
Ends
January 28, 2017, then touring until August 19
Press night
January 24, 2017
Adaptation
Robert Hudson
Book
Jack Murphy, Gregory Boyd
Music
Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics
Jack Murphy
Director
Lotte Wakeham
Musical director
Alex Parker
Choreographer
Lucie Pankhurst
Set
Andrew Riley
Lighting
Nick Richings
Sound
Chris Whybrow
Costume
Grace Smart
Technical
Leonie Webb (general manager)
Stage manager
Alex Adamson (technical stage manager) April Lindsay (deputy stage manager)
Production manager
Gordon Isaacs, Jason Culverwell
Cast includes
Wendi Peters, Dave Willetts, Kerry Ellis, Stephen Webb, Natalie McQueen, Kayi Ushe, Naomi Morris, Dominic Owen, Ben Kerr
Producer
Neil Eckersley Productions