Entering what appears to be an industrial unit, shuffling through unmarked doorways and passageways into the dark underground expanse that is Studio 24, does in itself feel very much like going doing the rabbit hole. Except the "Wonderland" we find ourselves in is more akin to a surreal rave – with strobes, techno soundtrack and live DJ – where everything in sight appears to have been plucked from a skip.
Nothing is normal in Wasteland; everything is surreal, mismatching, creative and weird. The entire experience feels a lot like the kind of dream you might have during a fitful, feverish sleep – wildly imaginative, yet so disconcertingly bizarre it's unsettling. If you suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns) be sure to stay as far away from this as possible, as it will undoubtedly by the stuff of nightmares for you.
The intricate costume design adds to the strangeness; the individual specifics are familiar, but not the way these details are combined. For example, the white rabbit's ears are made from brogues, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are dressed like harlequins – but with clown shoes, Joker make-up and cheerleader hairstyles. This is a theme that carries across all strands of the piece; nothing is obvious or hackneyed. The characters we meet along the way are very loosely based on Lewis Carroll's tale, a notable inclusion being a caterpillar (but this one lives in a green recycling bin, wears fingerless gloves and chains, and beatboxes into a flute).
The show has a strong anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist message. Two large screens project images of war, poverty, and politicians, interspersed with trippy graphics, while the cast sing, dance, rap and perform circus tricks. But this is not a foot-tapping variety show. Just as the venue is underground, so are the artists within it – even when they're tap dancing. Anything that could be construed as mainstream or categorized is twisted into something unconventional.
While this is billed on the Fringe website as a two-hour show, the show itself actually only lasts just under an hour, as there's a good half hour before the start and at the end allowed for soaking up the atmosphere in the venue. Alice, who starts out as a shopaholic, appears to have a kind of new awakening following her experiences in Wasteland. Exactly what this is, and how and why she has it, seemed to me very unclear – leaving the narrative quite weak and basic yet confusing.
But story aside, this is an impressively original and creative work, with great physical theatre, circus skills, and a live and recorded soundtrack fully devised by the company. I can't say I felt uplifted or inspired afterwards, but I did feel hypnotically drawn into and entertained by this weirdest of wonder- and waste-lands.