Damon Albarn musical whisks 'Alice' into the virtual world

 26 Nov 2015 - 13:32

Damon Albarn musical whisks 'Alice' into the virtual world

 

 

Damon Albarn 

 

London: A troubled teenage girl who seeks refuge in a fantastical online world is the star of a new musical co-written by Blur frontman Damon Albarn to mark the 150th anniversary of "Alice in Wonderland".

Loosely based on Lewis Carroll's book, "wonder.land" will be performed at London's National Theatre from Friday, before moving to the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris next year.

The rock opera-style musical opens in the bedroom of Aly (Lois Chimimba), a complex teenager who is in conflict with her parents and picked on by classmates who post insulting messages on social media.

To escape, the girl connects, via her smartphone, to "wonder.land", a brilliantly-coloured virtual world based on the "Wonderland" of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll.

The pixellated world invites Alice "to achieve your ideal," whereupon she creates "Alice," a beautiful, intelligent and loved alter-ego who embodies the qualities she believes herself to be missing.

The first scene sets the tone with Aly tapping on her keypad while digital images of "wonder.land" are projected on stage, with the Cheshire Cat becoming a giant virtual tom cat.

In bringing the story into the digital age, director Rufus Norris hopes to explore how new technologies have reshaped social relations and how mobile devices have become extensions of people's aspirations.

It is also a study of the tribulations of adolescence and the difficulties of forging an identity.

The original "Alice in Wonderland" was first published in 1865 and has been translated into at least 174 languages, winning millions of fans, both children and adults, around the world.

The 150th anniversary of the book's publication date falls this month, although the precise day is disputed.

The story is believed to have been dreamt up by Dodgson on a summer's day in Oxford as he entertained a friend's children, who included a young girl called Alice.

Some readers ascribe connotations of drug taking to the surreal story, which involves Alice experimenting with potions and pieces of mushroom on the advice of a hookah-smoking caterpillar, although scholars say there is no evidence Dodgson used drugs.

Two worlds collide

Albarn -- the show's composer and singer with Blur, one of the biggest Britpop bands of the 1990s -- found inspiration from within his own family.

"The idea was very much a reaction to my own daughter's relationship with social media and all the other things I probably don't know about that she's looked at on the Internet," the British singer/songwriter said in the official programme.

The end result is an ambitious, almost tortured, soundtrack that combines rock, brass bands, traditional instruments, electronic tones and video-game sound effects, all sprinkled with melancholy lyrics, which recall his two operas, "Monkey: Journey to the West" and "Dr Dee".

"We decided the music needed two identities: its articulation in the computer world and the real world," added Albarn.

"I've tried to add a bit of madness to the music to make it populist, which is quite difficult."

It has so far received a mixed reception from critics.

"While it's not in the same league as the all-conquering Matilda, Wonder.land is the best - and oddest - new British musical for families in a long while," wrote the Sunday Times newspaper.

The Independent gave it three stars out of five, adding: "Damon Albarn set high expectations for his new musical wonder.land. Perhaps too high."

The Guardian also gave the show three stars, calling it "big, bold, ambitious".

"(It) has much to recommend it, but ends up like a giant bag of liquorice allsorts: full of colour and variety but a bit rich to the taste and not something you'd want to devour too often," the newspaper added.

AFP