BRAVE and ballsy, like Alice herself in this take on Lewis Carrol's much loved stories, Wonderland is a riotous affair that sadly struggles to live up to its potential.The Playhouse, Greenside Place* * * *
In this musical from Frank Wildhorn, Alice is a single parent, the mother of older-than-her-years teenager Ellie.
Living in a high rise block, she is experiencing the worst day of her life and desperate to escape the ‘real’ world.
They say you should be careful what you wish for, and so, with a little help from a magical White Rabbit, an ‘out of order’ lift (there’s no rabbit hole) and Jack, the besotted downstairs neighbour, Alice and Ellie embark upon an adventure in Wonderland.
There, a trip through the Looking Glass will allow each to discover the part of themselves they hide. If only Alice can pluck up the courage to follow Ellie and Jack through.
A story of self-discovery then, just like the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, each must discover who they really are.
Timid Jack, a charismatic performance from Stephen Webb, is transformed into a valiant hero, while Naomi Morris, as Ellie, brings comedy, truth and beautiful vocals to her now stroppy creation.
But will Alice follow suit?
Kerry Ellis gives a gutsy yet sympathetic reading of the role, receiving great support from Natalie McQueen as the Mad Hatter - McQueen’s rendition of I Will Prevail is a highlight.
Likewise, when Ellis teams up with West End legend Dave Willetts, an ethereal White Rabbit, to duet on This Is Who I Am, the production soars to another level.
Former Coronation Street star Wendi Peters, meanwhile, makes the most of her limited stage time - she has just two scenes - bringing a wonderfully grotesque cartoon-like quality to her tart loving Queen of Hearts.
So where does it all tumble down? Design-wise, the promising psychedelic vibe is muted by lack-lustre costumes. The storytelling is clunky, score is samey, crucial sound and lighting cues are often late and choreography is scrappy. Frequently there’s a ‘work in progress’ feel to proceedings.
That said, the performances alone are engaging enough to make Wonderland worth seeing and if it sticks to its own ethos - believe in yourself and be all you can be - perhaps once this production has ‘gone through the ‘Looking Glass’ a few times itself, it will do just that, and become the show it has the potential to be.
Run ends Saturday