Perhaps it is the sheer absurdity of the Alice in Wonderland story that allows it to so endure over 150 years after it was first published. Lewis Carroll’s elegantly colourful characters range from the peculiar to the downright disturbing. At the centre of it all however is a young girl that just yearns to find some sense of belonging and identity.
Fast forward to 2011 and we get Frank Wildhorn’s adaptation of the familiar tale with a smattering of Carroll’s later Alice Through the Looking Glass thrown into the mix as well. In an attempt to bring the story up to date Wildhorn and lyricist Jack Murphy turn Alice into a single Mother of one with a divorce behind her, no job and a car that has just been stolen. That production lasted for just 64 performances on Broadway where it soon sunk into a rabbit hole somewhere to lick its wounds. It now bravely takes on the UK in a new tour that ramps up the colour and cranks up the volume knob in a vibrant and ultimately hugely enjoyable new production.
Set to an array of songs that are an eclectic mix of pop and funk Alice follows the White Rabbit not into a rabbit hole but into a broken down lift in her dire looking tower block. With teenage daughter by her side the most recognisable characters come and go with very little impact initially in the form of the smooth talking Caterpillar (a cool and creatively realised Kayi Ushe) and a shabby looking Cheshire Cat (an energetic but poorly defined Dominic Owen). Dave Willets as the White Rabbit is an anchor of calm amongst the chaos. Willets is in fine voice indeed and offers a reassuring confidence to an otherwise young company and in particular to his Alice in the form of Rachael Wooding (sharing the role with Kerry Ellis at some venues).
It is Natalie McQueen’s Mad Hatter that steals the show however. In a strange twist that sees the Mad Hatter hog a good proportion of the story by leading a coup d’état to take control of Wonderland from the Queen of Hearts ruthless hands. The power of course is all consuming and she quickly realises that there are better ways to deal with the problem. McQueen is brilliant in her madness with a belting voice and an energy about her that engages the entire audience. She really is as mad as a hatter!
With a great band and some simple but impactful designs this is a thoroughly engaging reworking of a story that looks set to survive for many more generations to come.