Where to begin? And more importantly, where to end? I guess I should just dive in...
WONDER.LAND (the dot is so important) is a collaboration (or unholy alliance) between Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris based on ALICE IN WONDERLAND which launched at the Manchester International Festival - and that should set off the warning klaxons: the Manchester International Festival... words to chill the blood eh?
After not-terribly good reviews there, it has supposedly been "looked at again" for it's London debut. I would suggest they all check in with their opticians very quickly as their is something very wrong with their collective sight.
It didn't take long before the sinking feeling started that we were watching a misfire of major proportions. Again and again, with no attempts to cover them, the woeful Buffini script ticks off the important (to her) points: 'Bullied Schoolchild' = TICK, 'Gay Best Friend' = TICK, 'Single Mother' = TICK, 'Abuse of Social Media' = TICK, 'Gender Role' = TICK and on and on and on with the relentlessness of a Politically Correct Joyless Machine.
Aly is a teenager in a new school, suffering from the recent separation of her parents - her dad is a 'lovable' gambler - but she escapes her life of boredom and bullying through her mobile phone. She starts a new game called Wonder.Land, picking as her avatar a cutesy Alice figure, but soon finds the gaming world swamping her real life - especially when her nasty headteacher confiscates Aly's phone and signs on as her into the Wonder.Land turning Alice into a nasty character instead...
They could have all been sitting on each other's faces for all I cared about them. So to find something positive to say... the video designs were impressive I suppose, in particular the scary Cheshire cat slinking about, with a grinning mouth of fangs. But the costume designs by Katrina Lindsey were ugly in the extreme - Carly Bawden as the Alice figure has the bad luck to wear the worst offender of all and Rae Smith's sets do little to inspire.
The performances also barely registered above the embarrassing. Carly Bawden makes the most of her fictional Alice but she never registers above a blip of interest. Lois Chimimba does at least make an impression as Aly but her character is so resoundingly chippy that again it's hard to get emotionally involved with her. Anna Francolini, a stalwart of many a musical ensemble, plays the nasty head-mistress - MATILDA anyone? - but sings in such a harsh, grating tone that it's little wonder she rarely plays a lead.
I won't mention any of the other cast... oh ok then, Hal Fowler as the MC of the whole proceedings is profoundly annoying, none more so than bellowing out "Www.wonder.land" usually following it with "bubblewoobubblewoobubblewoo. bumberboo.bong" or some such shite. I am sure Mrs Hal Fowler aka Kim Wilde was happy when he wasn't singing it around the house.
Damon Albarn? Don't get me started. The man could not write a show tune if his preening life depended on it. Hopefully WONDER.LAND will expose this musical charlatan of his much-vaunted prowess. The broadsheets fall over themselves to praise his littlest fart as another ground-breaking sonic sound - write an opera Mr Albarn? Oh yes why not. Write a musical Mr Albarn? Oh yes why not. Only here his tunes are lightweight to say the least... halfhearted Lionel Bart rip-offs. It truly is a ghastly score.
Afterwards I was sunk into the deepest depression. It was the sheer ghastliness of the whole event, polluting the stage that once was home to Richard Eyre's production of GUYS AND DOLLS, that sent me into such a state. That and the fact that it obviously cost the earth which could have been spent on a production that at least set out to provide genuine joy for the audience.
As usual, I was left wondering when director Rufus Norris looked at this resounding load of cock and thought, "Yes this is ready to set before a paying audience". I saw him walking through the Lyttelton bar afterwards where I had gone to have a strong drink. If he wasn't moving so fast I would have thrown my empty glass at him.
At one point, as the air of confusion settled over the family audience, a child wailed loudly. I genuinely thought of shouting out "You and me both bitch".