REVIEW: WONDERLAND (Sunderland Empire) ★★★
It’s not everyday you get to see a brand new musical but Wonderland has arrived in Sunderland in only the second week of its tour and it’s really rather good.
On her 40th birthday Alice (Kerry Ellis) has received a letter from her ex husband to say he’s got remarried. Her car has been stolen – making her late for work – resulting in her getting fired from her job in a Travel Agency. She loses her keys and forgets to buy food. Her ex husband’s reach still lingers making her think she is a terrible person and she wants to escape reality. Teenage daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris) feels she is the responsible one looking after her mum rather than the other way round and painfully shy next door neighbour Jack (Stephen Webb) has taken 3 years to pluck up the courage to talk to Alice.
Instead of a rabbit hole, the White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) takes the lift that has apparently never worked. Ellie chases the White Rabbit down to Wonderland so Alice chases Ellie and Jack chases Alice.
Once in Wonderland the characters move the plot along explaining that they all wanted to leave the real world behind and once the Queen of Hearts ( a woefully underused Wendi Peters) chops off your head you can stay in Wonderland for ever.
What follows is a romp around Wonderland with advice from the rather smooth Caterpillar (Kayi Ushe), the trickster Cheshire Cat (Dominic Owen) and a wonderfully bonkers Mad Hatter (Natalie Mcqueen). With a bit of female empowerment they learn to stand up to bullies and find their destinies and all learn they can live happily ever after.
Neil Eckersley’s production of Wonderland is big, bold and bright. Adapted by Robert Hudson for the show’s UK debut following a short Broadway run in 2011. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories the show is co-written by Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd, with original lyrics by composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Jack Murphy. Lottie Wakeham’s direction and Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography all help in this spectacle move along. But for me it’s Grace Smarts rather wonderful costumes that are the star of the show. A steampunk Mad Hatter, boy band Knights and a tartan bedecked Queen of Hearts who wears the most magnificent shoes.
WONDERLAND has a hesitancy about it because it’s new but once it finds its feet, I think it has the ability to be phenomenal.
Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes
WONDERLAND plays at the Sunderland Empire until Saturday 4 February 2017