Are you one of those people who hears the words “adapted from”, “inspired by”, “based on” or even “re-imagined” and your critical tentacles tense up? Do you find yourself thinking things like “I wonder how faithful this film is to the original novel?” or “What would the author think if she saw this dance adaptation?”. I know I certainly am, with my hand held high up in admission, head bowed down.
So when I walked into The National Theatre to watch wonder.land, the wild trippy musical “loosely based” on Alice in Wonderland (there it is, you see) I was full of that critical, snooty, cultural judgement. But just as easily, I transcended those misgivings and can tell you that, over two hours later, I left feeling surprised. More than surprised: inspired. I loved it.
Created by the almighty Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris, wonder.land highlights include the coolest, most glitchy, ravey, Gorillaz inspired rabbit you’ve ever seen; a broken-home Alice whose avatar is everything she isn’t (complete with sky high Alexander McQueen-esque platforms); the Cheshire Cat blown up so big on screen you just want to climb into that Bowie grin; a headmistress turned Queen of Spades that made me think of a hipsterfied Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull; and a Mad Hatter (Alice’s debt ridden father) who could be a cross between Albarn himself and Johnny Depp. What’s there not to love? There’s even a virtual reality music video-as-app which is like watching a whole sprawling mini-universe squeezed into the teeny screen of your mobile phone. And in all of this, there’s a mash up of familiar, clever cultural counter points. A constellation full of the world around us — it’s loud, it’s claustrophobic, it’s visually saturated. And utterly familiar.
Of course Albarn and team aren’t the first to tackle Alice in Wonderland: before wonder.land came Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland and then there was Tim Burton’s wild ride of a film (cue: Johnny Depp) and there was Penguin’s polka dotted Yayoi Kusama beauty of a book and then there was Alice for the iPad that blew our digital minds open so wide we thought we’d never come out.
So maybe the real testimony here is the story itself: a story so good it calls out to be revisited and made familiar again and again and again. And maybe it’s okay if this Alice is more about gaming and social media than it is the traditional Lewis Carroll narrative. One thing’s for sure, Alice 2.0 makes for a fabulously wild ride.
(Anna is guest blogging for us this month covering delightful new storytelling projects that have caught her eye. Anna is a Special Projects Creative Director who knows a thing or two about making stories, be they digital, on paper or brickwork as Founder of Visual Editions and Creative Director of Editions At Play.)