Bristol Hippodrome 2017
Our Verdict: Some of the songs were a bit hit or miss but 10/10 for the enjoyment factor, entire cast and book
Our Rating: 10/10
I didn’t have high expectations for Wonderland, currently playing at The Bristol Hippodrome. The advertising campaign seemed a little fuddy duddy and the promo video a little too Stars Hollow – The Musical. An unusual smattering of empty seats throughout the Stalls on Press Night perhaps confirmed it didn’t grab the wider imagination of the general public either.
But what a shame, because this musical took me completely by surprise. It featured highly relatable characters telling their stories through top notch performances and sparkling dialogue deftly delivered by a faultless cast.
Frank Wildhorn’s score was a bit hit and miss, but those hits were good – This is Who I Am was a genuine showstopper.
I’ve never really liked the story of Alice in Wonderland, but Wonderland itself takes the original story with Through the Looking Glass and gives us an enjoyable retelling with a modern twist.
Alice is a grown up single mother. She’s a former teacher who likes writing stories and parent of a slightly too sensible teenager. She’s having the Worst Day ever when she finds out on her birthday her ex husband is re-marrying, her car gets stolen, she is sacked from her job and then drops her house keys down the drain. If it was set in Bristol, she probably would have been pooed on by a seagull as well. It’s not a surprise when she says she doesn’t want to live in the real world anymore.
And that’s the clever cue. It seems that anytime somebody doesn’t want to live in the Real World, Dave Willetts’ affable White Rabbit pops up and takes them to Wonderland. Once there, Alice, her daughter and Unrequited Love Character – downstairs neighbour Jack, all go on an adventure amongst the familiar characters on their personal journeys of self discovery. It’s not as cheesy as it sounds, remaining artistically Wizard of Oz style rather than loathsome X Factor runner up.
Kerry Ellis as Alice, has the most jaw dropping voice and perfect comic timing. “Tyranny?” she rages at the Queen of Hearts. Alice knows Tyranny because she’s been through “six Ofsted inspections.”
Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s book is marvellous. It’s witty, it’s funny and the storyline is entertaining. It gives us enough to engage without being taxing on a Monday evening.
Natalie McQueen is a female Mad Hatter and it works perfectly. The gender change gives the story more opportunities, especially when it comes to her partnership with Ben Kerr’s March Hare. She goes against the unwritten Wonderland rules, stepping through the Looking Glass and going from slightly zany to tyrannically unhinged in supreme style. Stepping through the Looking Glass, we learn, changes people. It reveals their hidden side. Perhaps an unwise move if your character is already completely bonkers.
Wendi Peters’ Queen of Hearts was equally unhinged, but more in a quietly sinister Dolores Umbridge way. That is until she sang and produced a voice so powerful it knocked the cobwebs off the Upper Circle ceiling.
Alice’s teenage daughter Ellie, is another who goes through a dramatic Looking Glass change. Starting off as an Ab Fab Saffy, she ends up almost a Harry Enfield teen. But it’s not a lazy stereotype because Naomi Morris has a fine physical style and a fresh unaffected voice.
This is one of those shows with an important ensemble of characters from Alice right through to the left rear Caterpillar Leg. They are all played so brilliantly that you could pretty much reel off the entire cast list individually and have something great to say about all.
Whoever cast this show has a great eye for talent. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever seen such an impressive array of vocalists all in one cast.
I loved Andrew Riley’s dreary council tower block as well as the simple and effective rabbit warren type tunnel for the set.
If you are someone who watches a lot of theatre, especially musical theatre, it’s so refreshing to be able to relax and watch something new that’s also really really good.
Wonderland is a completely unpretentious piece of commercial musical theatre. It would be a shame to miss this unexpected gem whilst it’s in the city this week.
Our age suggestion: Six years upwards
Wonderland is at The Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 13 May 2017