Entertainment & Arts

Damon Albarn's musical will be 'a little controversial'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDamon Albarn says Alice in Wonderland haunted him as a child

Singer Damon Albarn has predicted his Alice in Wonderland-inspired musical will prove "a little controversial" when it opens in Manchester later.

The Blur frontman has written the music for Wonder.land, which kicks off the Manchester International Festival.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the story was "very different" from the original, written by Lewis Carroll.

In this version, Alice becomes Aly and falls into a strange online world rather than a rabbit hole.

Asked how the story differed from the original, Albarn replied: "I can't tell you that… but it's bound to be a little controversial."

Image copyright Sarah Lee
Image caption Albarn (right) has created the show with Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris

Playwright Moira Buffini has written the lyrics for Wonder.land, which is directed by the National Theatre's artistic director, Rufus Norris.

Albarn admitted he was nervous about the opening of the show, which is his first stage musical.

Speaking about creating it, he said: "Sometimes you feel suicidal. Sometimes you feel euphoric.

"Sometimes nothing in the world makes any sense any more. Sometimes the elation is hard to suppress. And this all happens in a day."

The music he has written, he said, was "pretty strange in a hopefully joyous way", adding: "It's not conventional."

Image copyright Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Image copyright Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Image caption Wonder.land features all the original characters, but many have been reinvented

The show would not be like many modern musicals, which "lack identity musically" and were "homogenous", he said.

Wonder.land includes many of the familiar Alice in Wonderland characters - but they have been radically altered.

Inspiration from children

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, for example, are "young pageant queen twins from middle America, posing online as big aggressive bullying geezers".

The Queen of Hearts, meanwhile, is a teacher who confiscates the phone belonging to Aly, played by Lois Chimimba.

Albarn, Buffini and Norris all have teenage children and have been influenced by watching how young people interact online.

"It's something that is hard to get your head around because when we were teenagers, there was nothing like this," Albarn said.

"It's not fair to say it's about my daughter entirely, but I have definitely thought about her a lot when writing the emotional music."

Image copyright Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Image caption The show will run at the National Theatre in London later this year

This is the fourth show Albarn has created for the Manchester International Festival and coincides with the 150th anniversary of Carroll's creation.

Albarn said Alice in Wonderland "affected me deeply" as a child and the story "became the architecture of many of my recurring nightmares throughout my life".

The musical was originally going to be set in North Korea, and the musician spent 10 days in the country for research.

Spy cameras

"I packed my bag, my annotated version of Alice and a couple of spy cameras and I'd gone to North Korea," he said.

"And it was a fascinating, extraordinary place. And magic and wonderful in the sense that everyone was under a spell, which is akin to what's seemingly the world of Alice.

"But it didn't go that way. I came out of that rabbit hole and the internet seemed a more tangible one to explore."

Wonder.land is at Manchester's Palace Theatre and will then move to the National Theatre in London in November.

It is the first show of this year's Manchester Festival, which also includes actors Maxine Peake, Charlotte Rampling and Simon Bird; painter Gerhard Richter; children's TV star Justin Fletcher; and musician FKA Twigs. The festival runs until 19 July.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites