Anyone remember playing Habbo Hotel? I remember spending hours in my bedroom, creating my avatar named PrincessEmmaChristianGirl99 (don’t ask!), designing new rooms, asking other avatars whether they “want to be my family” and chatting to complete strangers. My mum interrupting the game with “Oi! Homework!” and I was forced to abort with a “brb“…until she went downstairs.”Lmao“. I created the perfected mini me, free from acne, frizzy hair, big teeth and worries. She was also free from anxiety, depression and dyslexia. Habbo Hotel was my virtual Wonderland…you see where this is going?
Time hop, skip and jump to 2016, I visited my “home sweet home” – the National Theatre – for wonder.land. wonder.land is the modernised reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Hacking into this iconic story’s hard drive, this new musical wets the lips for visual delight and Cheshire grins the teeth of live theatre and digital technology. Creating a sense of eharmony, creativity bursts the traditional West End musical’s vector, destroys the pretty songs for the ear, and sugar-coats the mysterious online world with a teenager’s identity crisis at the Olivier Theatre’s centre stage.
“Aly is struggling with all the pressures of being a teenager: family, school, friends and her own insecurities. Then she discovers wonder.land – a mysterious online world where, perhaps, she can create a whole new life. The web becomes her looking-glass – but will Aly see who she really is?”
Lois Chimimba played Aly with such fine rebellious and jealous streaks, it seemed to echo many teenaged memories or nightmares. Engaged to her smartphone, her broken family fuels this online addiction and desperation to create an avatar in wonder.land. The temptation to mould Alice (Carly Bawden), into the total opposite of her creator, Aly reveals her deepest desires “Everyone likes you. You’re not afraid of anything. And you’re beautiful“. The musical suddenly has the page view of a harmonic heart, falls out of its safe mode and laser prints thunderous video projection and lighting of a golden Cheshire cat.
The gigabytes of imaginative use of props to glide the characters around the transforming sets was very impressive. Loving the makeshift bus from a buggy towing several luggage carts, I was inserting my memory stick to save this abundance of creativity. From Alice’s Lady Gaga inspired costume to the Caterpillar’s humourous Christmas bauble ensemble, the costumes made me appreciate the sudden distance from reality and dive into the true meaning of escapism.
Throughout the musical, comedy fired the wall of seriousness with the humorous avatars, including Dum and Dee, Mouse, White Rabbit, Humpty, Dodo, Caterpillar and Mock Turtle. Staying true to its literature spirit, I heard a few audience members gasp and snigger at the cleverness of it all. Also, Luke Laprel (Enyi Okoronkwo) was the Buttons of the musical as his quest to befriend Aly creates the sweetheart moment…don’t worry no cheesy love story! Creating many gateways to laugh out loud, wonder.land brightened up its expectations and became a pleasure to watch.
My antenna tuned into a priceless yet brief discussion on dyslexia. Aly defends her naughty phone use, suggesting it’s a “learning aid” as it has “spell check and everything“. Unable to detect Aly’s lie or truth, Ms Manxome (Anna Francolini) responds there was no such thing as dyslexia in “my day. They had a condition called Thick“. Copy in a few audience laughs around the Olivier Theatre, dyslexics became invisible clowns in the audience. Knowing fellow dyslexic and Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn was behind this wonder.ful musical’s creation, it was a poignant moment for recognition – and perhaps a reverse psychology test.
With a blurred messy madness, the desperate pace for closure saw the cyber war between digital versus reality. Aly fights Ms Manxome for her control of her avatar whilst her friend Luke and his zombie gang debug Alice. The sacrifice leads to a short circuit of virtual tears, but wonder.land seems to have unzipped a folder on its desktop “A moral to the story“.
The musical wants you to become the new age and teaches you the meaning of self love and uncovering your passions, values and beliefs. Although the melodies are slightly unmemorable, the narrative beats a fuzzy heart and releases “go see” fibres, just don’t use your phone or computer to rant and rave…oh the irony.
Book your tickets here to wonder.land. Ends Saturday 30 April 2016.