An unexplainable claustrophobic nuisance gradually pervade my untested frail limbs when the stage sparkles to life, diverting me from my dreamy yearning for white wine and Madagascan-vanilla ice-cream at the interval. The sordidness of the rocky and craggy scenography anaesthetises me from the glamorous formality of the auditorium, with blinding torches on robust helmets remorselessly stinging my confident imperturbability like a treacherous mosquito. I am catapulted, descending anxiously underground via a wobbly and unstable lift, in the surreal reality – if you pardon my jeu de mots or, in other terms, wordplay – of the gritty life of 1980s miners.
The play commences with two unexperienced 16-year-olds waiting and chatting fretfully at the pithead. A veteran miner known as ‘the Colonel’ – majestically interpret by an incredibly authentic William Travis – tutors the young lads with the concealed fondness of a protective father and the inflexibility of a seasoned lieutenant, introducing them to the asphyxiating but marvellously dignified world of the mining profession. The historical period coincides with that of the Thatcherian administration and – before unripe Malcolm and Jimmy can even properly plunge into their physically-demanding job – unprecedented reforms dictated by a resolute American CEO and a highly displeased Tory MP lead to a general strike, with scenes of outpouring rage, tenaciousness and desperation which revoke tear-jerking highlights from the 2000 masterpiece ‘Billy Elliot’. The climax of such a contorted situation eventually deflates with the dissolution of the strike; however, nothing will ever be the same, including the harmonious and crisp symbiosis between once close-knit and witty colleagues.
Wonderland is a Mongolian hotpot of constantly alternating dichotomous emotions: you are either suffocating a clandestine laugh at the miners’ mildly licentious puns (in particular, the ones concerning an overly-caring nurse) or surreptitiously reaching for a handkerchief to dry your wet cheeks. In two specific situations, the play opts for an extemporaneous but skilfully premeditated scientific test to evaluate the invulnerability of my heart – and may I admit, I fail those screenings dramatically. Well into the strike, one of the miners confesses to have killed his dog in the middle of the woods, as already unable to provide food for his wife and kids; whilst in another scene, a dad is trapped under the debris of a collapsed cave, begging for help in an excruciating way to watch. While strategically pretending to have two irritating grains in both eyes, the actors will brilliantly incite you to meditate on the precarious working conditions of such undauntedly unfazed men and the misery that ruthlessly affected them in the 1980s.
With sagaciously tailored dialogues, biting irony, touching breakdowns, eccentric men-of-power wearing baroque dressing-gowns resembling the regal curtains inside the Palace of Versailles, outstanding performances (a special mention goes to an impressive John Booker playing young Malcolm) and a creatively convincing scenography, ‘Wonderland’ is an almost impeccable and highly recommended show that will guide you from being a cautious and detached spectator to a mature and absorbed integral part of the story. 4/5
Review written by Oliver Assogna.
Wonderland is currently showing until Saturday 9th March 2019 at the Northern Stage. To find out more about the production, visit here…