Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Wonder.land; Hapgood; the Lorax

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Wonder.land; Hapgood; the Lorax

Article excerpt

Damon Albarn and Rufus Norris present a musical version of Alice in Wonderland . A challenging enterprise even if they'd stuck to the original but they've fast-forwarded everything to the present day. The titular heroine, a trusting and solemn Victorian schoolgirl, has been recast as Aly, a wheedling teenage grump who loathes her mum, her dad, her comp, her teachers and her playmates. 'I hate being me,' she announces. And as we learn more about her we're increasingly struck by the sagacity of this verdict. To escape her distress she downloads a game from www.wonder.land and creates a cyber-self, Alice, who goes on adventures. Hmm. A computer game. Parents have for decades been urging their zombie children to toss these time-stealers into the waste-disposal unit. 'Read a book,' cry the adults despairingly. 'Learn a language. Expand your world. Visit the National!' And the National responds with? A computer game. Beside me sat a couple of bespectacled twins, aged about 10, and their unsmiling father who took their punishment with valiant stoicism. Occasionally, I heard the grinding of Dad's teeth.

Some of Carroll's original motifs survive but the central narrative is an underclass soap featuring a family of emotional derelicts: Aly is a lowing outcast, her dad is a luckless gambling addict and her mum is a shouty cradle-filler overwhelmed by vomiting whelps. There's very little integration between these thumping zeroes and the delicate, playful characters who populate Aly's parallel world. The libretto is the work of award-winning ink-squirter Moira Buffini, who has no previous experience as a composer of verse. I salute her courage in bidding such a spirited farewell to the rhymester's craft on her debut. Unmoved by Carroll's whimsical elegance -- 'we called him tortoise because he taught us' -- she offers us gangsta couplets instead. 'Sometimes I hear my stepdad shouting/Piss off to bed or you'll get a clouting.' Lovely, isn't it? A small polish and it could be a lullaby.

The show has redeeming features. The zingy visuals are constantly stimulating. Katrina Lindsay's vividly overblown and highly stylised costumes created for Alice and her friends are a superb achievement. Paul Hilton exudes verve and charisma as Aly's dad and he easily outclasses the rest of the company apart from Anna Francolini, who turns in a scene-pilfering performance as a sexy shrewish villainess. I doubt this show will succeed at the National. It'll mystify kids and dismay parents who, perhaps misguidedly, regard the original as sacrosanct. …

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