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RNCM Concert Hall, 20 November 2015


Well, here is a question to start: what do Vienna’s Ringstrasse and Alice in Wonderland have in common? Answer: both came into being 150 years ago.

In Vienna there have been exhibitions celebrating the opening of the Ringstrasse at the Wien Museum and the Belvedere, while this year we had Damon Albarn’s wonder.land at the MIF.

This show, Wonderland, brings together myriad magnificent talents. Louis de Bernières has written a narrative consisting of 12 chapters (really, a kind of commentary or fugue on Lewis Carrroll’s text, rather than simply a retelling of Alice’s story) and it is read by Julie Hesmondhalgh. In addition, Emily Carew Woodward has drawn a dozen or so illustrations, at once delightful and dark and not a little dodgy. (I made a short note regarding the illustration to chapter 5: ‘phallic mushrooms’. This illustration also saw a caterpillar toking a shisha pipe, quite apt with Rusholme just down road. All Emily’s illustration can be viewed here.) They are quite in keeping with the spirit of the book itself, you might think. Composers aplenty – a baker’s dozen, including Howard Baker and Carl Davis – have come up with original pieces of music, all quite scintillating, to close each chapter.

It is a Wonderland indeed, a delightful amalgam of artists and artistry, though one couldn’t help wondering what the result would have been if one composer had been commissioned to create music for the whole thing, along the lines of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, still the model of how to tell a children’s story through music.  There, Prokofiev had a large canvas to play with and he gave each character a musical signature. Now think of all the memorable characters Alice meets on her travels…

Anyway, once having seen this show you’ll want to reread Alice in Wonderland once more.

Wonderland is touring throughout the UK, tour dates are here.