Wonderland

Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy based on the book by Lewis Carroll

Wonderland Stage

Liverpool Empire

From 13 June 2017 to 17 June 2017

Review by David Sedgwick

On paper, it sounds like a dream ticket: Alice in Wonderland adapted for stage, a chance to create Lewis Carroll’s childhood classic in all its psychedelic glory. How the set designers must have been licking their lips. Carte blanche.

Wonderland is a curious show. At times it plays rather like a traditional pantomime though noticeably lacking in the raucous humour associated with that genre. At other times it’s pure West End, a slick, high energy ensemble piece peppered with some outstanding vocal performances capable of raising the roof. Judging by the range of ages in the audience at Liverpool’s Empire theatre, this a show with something for everyone.

Herein however lies a problem. Arguably this is a show in search of a stronger identity. Who exactly is the intended audience? Is this a family show? With its frothy optimism, fairy-tale storyline and self-conscious delivery at times it certainly feels that way.

What this production is crying out for is a much darker tone. Wonderland needs to be sassier, sexier. It needs a much more adventurous sense of artistic direction, one that allows it to take chances, to surprise and perhaps even to tease audience expectation. Risqué would have been a very interesting destination to have set sail for. Alas.

As it is, this production is a fairly standard rendition of the novel upon which it is based. The addition of a back-story that involves Alice’s (Kerry Ellis) marital problems it has to be said never really convinces and is arguably superfluous to events on stage. Nevertheless, in the lead role, the pert but prim Miss Ellis turns in a tremendously energetic performance as the little girl lost.

Indeed the most abiding memory of the evening must be her vocal performances which are always models of control. Her duet with The Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen) "This is Who I Am" is arguably the show’s highpoint. It is probably not stretching the truth to much to suggest that the reception of this current production rests almost entirely on the talents of this pair of gifted female vocalists.

Other memorable moments include Kayi Ushe’s caterpillar silkily smooching his way through the suitably soulful "Advice from a Caterpillar". Naomi Morris in the role of Alice’s daughter Ellie has a moment to display her own vocal talents with the delicate ballad, "Home".

Overall, as a production, Wonderland is perhaps still a work in progress. Thematically, it’s a show not without potential, it’s just a case of a little less light and a little more shade.