FRINGE REVIEW – Wonderland (Assembly @ George Street)


14 – 30 Aug (not 17)
1345-1515, Assembly @ George Street

As teenage showgirl Isa Bowman reenacts another scene from Alice for the enjoyment of her middle-aged friend and patron Lewis Carroll at their Eastbourne holiday lodgings, we feel that their relationship – albeit slightly odd – is nothing more than a charming and innocent one between close friends.

Gyles Brandreth’s Wonderland does not shy away from the controversy surrounding Carroll’s well-documented friendships with a string of young girls, but it presents the man as a sympathetic eccentric who has difficulty in forming adult relationships and whose intentions are entirely honourable.

A musical play starring Michael Maloney and Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Wonderland is a touching and gentle exploration of the couple’s relationship, featuring excellent performances and some memorable songs.

Maloney portrays the author well, immediately creating a character we can warm to and sympathise with. Spencer-Longhurst, a newcomer to the stage, is absolutely outstanding. With measured breathing and impeccable vocal delivery – both spoken and sung – she is surely destined for great things. Her effortless switch from the character-in-character of Alice to that of the more down-to-earth Isa Bowman is impressive, as are her mannerisms and expressions.

Brandreth’s piece is clever and witty, making full use of the symbolism and imagery within the Alice books to emphasise the subtle shifts in the pair’s relationship as it changes and they eventually grow apart. The set is well-designed, again evoking the odd angular eccentricity of Carroll’s work, and of his mind.

Around sixteen songs feature in the piece, accompanied offstage by live piano peformed by their composer Susannah Pearse. None of the songs appear forced or out of place, and they complement the mood and themes of the piece well. And whilst Maloney’s vocals are clear and competent, Spencer-Longhurst’s singing is a captivating joy to listen to and a definite highlight of the production.

Touching and multi-layered, Wonderland is thoroughly enjoyable, with a West End quality which feels slightly out of place at the Fringe. It is however well worth taking a trip down the rabbit hole for, and if you do so, you may find yourself having witnessed the debut performance of a rising star.

Ticket information is available on the Assembly website.

Review by Keith D

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