wonder.land: Damon Albarn returns for Manchester International Festival

Susie Stubbs

Alice in Wonderland is reworked for Manchester International Festival’s latest commission – and guess who is coming back to the city?

When we’re little, we create friends out of thin air. Stig comes to live in the dump, fairies inhabit the bottom of the garden, and the wardrobe in the corner becomes a gateway to a magical world. Fiction is full of children who find imaginary friendship in otherwise lonely places. So it follows that in Manchester International Festival’s latest commission – a musical inspired by kids’ classic, Alice in Wonderland – the protagonist is a lonely girl who creates her own, happier world. In this version of the story, however, that imaginary world is an online, virtual one: wonder.land becomes a place of respite for a 12 year-old bullied in real life. And then, guess what, those two worlds collide…

Fiction is full children who find imaginary friends in otherwise lonely places

wonder.land is an intriguing premise for a new musical, and a timely one: it’s 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s classic was first published. Damon Albarn has written the music, and it’ll be interesting to see what he brings to it; since his last stint at MIF in 2011, he has done everything from release a solo album to work on side projects with Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and legendary afrobeat muso, Tony Allen. Damon Albarn is supported by acclaimed playwright Moira Buffini and director Rufus Norris, who is also returning to Manchester. The National Theatre’s incoming director worked with Albarn on Dr. Dee in 2011.

Albarn, Buffini and Norris are an impressive trio, but it’s the story that will make this a must-see or a no-show. Can a tale that has captured kids’ attention for 150 years be twisted and turned into something new, something more relevant? We’ll find out in July – but for anyone who ever felt the sharp loneliness of childhood, this may be the place to recall the comfort and the joy of imaginary life.

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