Theatre Review: Wonderland - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭


Review by Graeme Shield 

The classic Lewis Carroll stories get very loosely adapted into a brand new musical, courtesy of composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) and lyricist Jack Murphy in the form of Wonderland, having it’s European Premiere at the Edinburgh Playhouse before touring the UK.

Wonderland arrives on our shores after the shortest of stints on Broadway in 2011. With a book by Jack Murphy Gregory Boyd (with UK rewrites by Robert Hudson), the story follows 40-year-old Alice struggling to cope with real life responsibilities post-divorce and seeking an escape.

No sooner are we finished with the Wizard-esque grey opening than we’re whisked down the rabbit hole (in this adaptation, a lift shaft) along with daughter Ellie and neighbour/love interest, Jack.

After meeting the regular characters (all your favourites are here, including an excellent Dominic Owen as the Cheshire Cat) the story quickly loses shape with an overabundance of dialogue, until the appearance of the Looking Glass provides us with a tantalising opportunity to explore the main characters’ unsaid ambitions and fears as they walk through.

The trouble is, the script sets up many interesting plot threads but doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. And while the whimsical British characterisations really suit the piece, Wildhorn’s songs rarely capture the ear or drive the characters and/ or story forward. The resulting feeling is of a musical which is, infuriatingly, both light-hearted yet long-winded.

Luckily, the cast do great work with what they’re given. Kerry Ellis as Alice makes lightweight lyrics seem important and her song ‘Once More I Can See’ is the stand out number of the show, along with ‘Home’ sung by a truly brilliant Naomi Morris as Ellie. Elsewhere, Dave Willetts as the White Rabbit is dependably watchable andWendi Peters chews both jam tarts and the scenery with her glorious characterisation of the Red Queen. Natalie McQueen’s Mad Hatter threatens to steal the whole show at points, her quirky delivery pre-Looking Glass transformation a particular highlight.

Ultimately Wonderland owes a lot to other, arguably better, musicals (although this reviewer did chuckle at the nod to Sweeney Todd) and invokes unfavourable comparison with a popular fantasy-land-set ballad-heavy musical with a one word title. Put those comparisons aside, however, and there is much to enjoy as the hard-working cast will make your adventure down the rabbit hole worthwhile.

Wonderland runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 28th January, before heading on a UK tour.