Theatre Review: Wonderland At The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

The powerful vocal performances and talented cast made us all mad for more, but the production didn't make us lose our heads.

A poster for the show Wonderland at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre with a white rabbit coming out of a yellow rabbit hole

In the 150 years since its first publication, Alice in Wonderland has inspired many films and stage adaptations as well as a variety of books, comics, videogames and music.

It’s hard to believe that such a well know novel was the result of a boat trip, during which English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dogson (real name of Lewis Carroll), came up with a story to entertain the three daughters of Reverend Robinson Duckworth, one of which was named, you guessed it, Alice. Since the girls loved it so much, especially Alice, they asked Dogson to write it down, so he began elaborating the plot that resulted in the colourful and crazy world we all came to know and its peculiar inhabitants, such as the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, who have become part of popular culture over the years.

Written by Gregory Boyd (Jekyll & Hyde, The Civil War), with music by Frank Wildhorn (Bonnie & Clyde, The Civil War ) and starring West End starlet Kerry Ellis (Elphaba in Wicked the musical) as Alice and Coronation Street favourite Wendi Peters, this new musical adaptation premiered in Ireland on June 19th at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and will be running until Saturday, June 24.

The cast of Wonderland The Musical posing for a group photo

Wonderland tells the story of Alice, a 40 something year old woman who has been left by her husband and struggles with everyday life. Sacked from a job she hates and incapable to move on from her failed relationship, she’d rather dream of the day her husband will come back to rescue her from her ordinary life than face reality and appreciate her daughter Ellie, who seems to be the adult in the pair, or her neighbour Jack who is clearly in love with her. Things take an unexpected turn when Ellie chases a white rabbit into a broken lift shaft and Alice and Jack follow her, finding themselves in the strange world of Wonderland.

The true scene-stealer however was Wendi Peters as the hilarious, over the top, tart-munching Queen of Hearts.

First things first, let’s talk about the cast. Kerry Ellis does an outstanding job as Alice, she is extremely convincing and her vocals are really impressive. Stephen Webb is also excellent as the awkward Jack, a role that reminds us of Seymour Krelborn from Little Shop of Horrors. Kayi Ushe is fantastic as the androgynous, camp and glamorous Caterpillar and Natalie McQueen (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables) is great as the Mad Hatter (also, the gender switch from the original character was interesting).

The true scene-stealer however was Wendi Peters as the hilarious, over the top, tart-munching Queen of Hearts. From the moment she first appears, with her perfect comic timing, her cartoonish swagger and her overly dramatic presence, she does such an amazing job it makes you wish she had her own musical (we can hope in the future maybe?). On top of that, her make-up, theatrical mannerism and dance moves bare a striking resemblance to our local favourite Dolly Grip. It’s a pity she only appears in few scenes as the production could have benefited from her charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.

Wonderland star Wendi Peters and Dublin drag performer Dolly Grip are compared.

Despite an extremely talented cast who could certainly sing, it feels like the overall production was not as amazing as you would hope, and leaves you questioning if a bigger budget and a few improvements could have made it a more exciting experience.

The set design is perhaps too simple. The stage consists of three arches lit up by LED lights that change colour based on where the action is taking place. There are a couple of set pieces that are added to each scene (the wonderfully dry-humoured Looking Glass being the best of them) but everything as a whole feels a little flat. We are in Wonderland but there is little wonder.

The costume design also doesn’t feel as exciting as it could have been for such iconic characters, with exception of the Caterpillar, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. The characters in Alice in Wonderland are so extravagant, bonkers and over the top that, although the show is a contemporary take on a classic, there is much more that could have been done with the costumes. The Mad Hatter for instance is such a strong character but her costume was a bit underwhelming. The choice of having Alice starting the play wearing boots and jeans and – spoiler alert – changing into a more conservative version of the Disney original dress after going through the Looking Glass is quite confusing. Since she is supposed to change from a naive, dreamy woman who doesn’t want to grow up, into a stronger and more secure self perhaps would have made more sense to switch the outfits the other way around?

Finally, the songs and the choreography are entertaining but not nearly as catchy or strong as other big musicals out there, becoming quite indistinct. Some of the songs/scenes remind a lot of Wicked (the Mad Hatter/Alice unexpected duet especially) with a bit of Frozen, but unfortunately the extremely talented cast doesn’t get the opportunity to Let it Go and Defy Gravity.

Overall Wonderland is a nice musical but perhaps it misses the mark and falls short of that wow factor that other stage productions have.

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