Fans of the 1865 novel and subsequent big screen adaptations will be familiar with the surreal worlds created by Lewis Carroll, Disney and Tim Burton. But Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini's "Alice for the online generation", first seen at the Manchester International Festival and now reworked for the National, is so completely absurd it's more cloud cuckoo land than Wonderland.
Aly (Lois Chimimba) is a stressed out millenial from a broken home. Bullied by her new schoolmates and struggling to find her identity, she seeks solace in her smartphone and an app called wonder.land, an MMORPG that offers the opportunity to 'be someone else'. 'Eat me' purrs the onscreen Cheshire Cat, at which point I began to suspect my pre-show drink was spiked with LSD.
She creates her avatar, named Alice (Carly Bawden), as the antithetical image of how she sees herself, beautiful, confident and, tellingly, white. Through Alice, Aly connects with other people in ways she can't in real life – and this is where it starts to descend into absurdity – a bodybuilding Dodo with gender issues, the obese tap dancing twins Dum and Dee and a seven foot Scottish mouse who can't get a girlfriend because he's 'a dick'.
Seemingly unaffected by how bizarre this new world of hers is, she begins a quest to follow the White Rabbit. Oblivious to the point of the quest (as are the audience come the curtain call), Aly/Alice consults a vaping caterpillar – wonderfully realised using seven sparkling ensemble members – who asks 'who are you?'
Aly's attempts to discover the answer are thwarted when her headteacher, the Cruella de Vil-esque Ms Manxome (Anna Francolini), confiscates her phone and hijacks her avatar, transforming Alice into the Red Queen – complete with 99p sword expansion pack – Aly must then find a way to retrieve her phone and save her fellow avatars from the rogue Manxome.
Chimimba, Bawden and Francolini put in sterling performances given what they have to work with, and there's a brilliantly comic turn from Hal Fowler as the segway-riding MC (reminiscent of Stanley Tucci in The Hunger Games).
The fact that this is Albarn and Buffini's first voyage into musical theatre is glaringly apparent. The dialogue is clunky, the lyrics unmemorable and, whilst Albarn may be a respected pop artist, his skills do not yet extend to writing theatrical music. The best song in the show involves taking Blur's most famous song and changing Park to Crap.
wonder.land is technically brilliant, if you're looking for a reason to go and see this production it's to marvel at Katrina Lindsay's exquisite costumes and 59 Productions' stunning video projection.
It's often said that mobile phones are ruining theatre. That is certainly the case in this modern retelling of Carroll's classic.
wonder.land is playing in the Olivier, National Theatre, booking until 30 April 2016.