AFP

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” is being performed at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until July 12 before moving to London’s National Theatre and 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 July 1865 and has been translated into at least 174 languages, winning millions of fans, both children and adults, around the world. Albarn — the show’s composer and singer with Blur, one of the biggest Britpop bands of the 1990s who have recently started working together again — 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 premiered on Thursday to a lukewarm reception from the critics. “Damon Albarn set high expectations for his new musical wonder.land. Perhaps too high,” wrote the Independent, giving it three out of five stars.

“Albarn’s jaunty score is serviceable but it lacks both the edge and the melodic hooks of the songs that made him and Blur famous.” 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.