Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre

“You have to live in this world”

The lure of falling down the rabbit hole is one which has kept adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland appearing on a regular basis on screens and stages and the Manchester International Festival is no exception, commissioning this musical treatment with the National Theatre and Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet. Composer Damon Albarn (no stranger to the MIF after Monkey and Dr Dee) and writer Moira Buffini’s thoroughly modern version – stylised wonder dot land – certainly has a unique take on the story but has the feeling of something of a work-in-progress perhaps, no bad thing as longer runs in London and Paris will follow this brief engagement at the Palace Theatre.

Here, wonder.land is an online world, a virtual reality where people can escape the drudgery of their own lives or pretend to be someone completely different, for a little while at least. 12-year-old Aly is one such person, trying to hide from the bullies at school and the unhappiness at home by becoming Alice, her all-conquering avatar or online identity who accepts a mysterious quest as part of joining wonder.land. And in her journeying, she comes across variations on many of the characters we’ve come to know but viewed through a different prism, many of them being the avatars of other players, balefully reflecting their own insecurities.  Continue reading “Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre”

Re-review: Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee, ENO at the Coliseum

“This is the language of heaven”

It wasn’t intention to revisit Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee now it has arrived at the ENO’s home at the Coliseum, but as I haven’t learned to respond to any offer along the lines of “I have a spare ticket…” in anything but the affirmative, that was where I ended up tonight. I actually caught this show last year when it premiered as part of the Manchester International Festival (review can be read here) and though my feelings were decidedly mixed, they were generally positive, especially given that the work was still raw and fresh, only having recently come out of workshopping. A year down the line, changes have been made to the show, but I have to admit that my feelings were still largely quite ambivalent.

Based on the historically significant, if neglected, figure of Elizabethan Dr John Dee, Albarn and director Rufus Norris have created something of a spectacle, but even after the refinements that have been made, it remains something of a perplexing piece. Dee’s biography reads as a thing of great fascination, a key advisor to Elizabeth I, he was a man whose extraordinary breadth of knowledge took in astrology, alchemy, philosophy, mathematics and much more besides but when this unquenchable thirst lead him to increasingly dabble in the occult, he sowed the seeds of his own downfall. But you would be hard-pressed to gather much of this from the events onstage. Continue reading “Re-review: Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee, ENO at the Coliseum”

Review: Dr Dee – Palace Theatre, Manchester

“You know I cannot see, nor scry”

Continuing to stretch his wings, Damon Albarn returned to the Manchester International Festival, where his Monkey: Journey to the West was quite the success, with another quasi-operatic work, this time based on a mysterious Elizabethan figure – Dr Dee: A Very English Opera. Doctor John Dee was a man of varied talents whose influence was such that it was he who chose the optimum day for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation: he also dabbled in philosophy, astrology and alchemy at a time of great new learning, but personal demons and temptations ultimately led to his downfall.

With a story as rich in potential as this – Dee is reputed to have been the inspirations for both Marlowe’s Faustus and Shakespeare’s Prospero – it then feels surprising that so little attempt has been made to develop a narrative. It was made worse on a personal level by employing someone as good as Bertie Carvel – so very good in Matilda and soon to return as Ms Trunchbull – to play Dee but then leave him with so little to say – I was very much looking forward to another barnstorming performance. Continue reading “Review: Dr Dee – Palace Theatre, Manchester”