Creative Director: Laura Corcoran
Back once again to beguile and dazzle, the producers behind last year’s Wonderville: Magic & Illusion at the Palace Theatre have assembled another fine team of performers and entertainers for a new show. An initial roster for the season with acts that span the full range from household names to those just breaking into the business holds huge promise. It’s a promise not entirely fulfilled in the opening night, but there’s enough hints there that gives confidence that this will be a much sought-after show in the coming weeks and months.
Located in the vacant space where Londoner’s used to eat bad ribs under the watchful eye of a replica Power Rangers outfit, Wonderville’s venue takeover as a Justin Williams-designed vintage-themed house of magic and delight has given more life to Planet Hollywood’s old address than the restaurant did in its entire 10-year run here. At its opening – as with any variety production, it’s a mixed bag – luckily for us this time they’re all good, while a handful of the acts are great. The source of most of that life is our tag-teaming hosts – the last in a long line (his words) of Desmond O’Connors, and singer and cabaret host Chastity Belt. Vibing off each other and the audience, they’re flirty, funny, sexy and a little bit edgy. So charismatic, in fact, that at times it feels the magicians and variety performances are the intervals between their hosting slots.
The opening number from the duo is a blast. It nicely sets up a little link to the history and heritage of cabaret, magic and variety acts which gives the show a theme and purpose without coming on too keenly and battering us with it. The gentle touch is rewarded – it’s a leitmotif through the show, but never intrusive. It lets the performers get on what they do best, and this is a show that does exactly what it says on the flyer. Magicians, cabaret and circus variety turns – some will amaze and astound you. Some (unfortunately) don’t contribute much to the energy.
After a quick burst of hula hoop action from Maz Olayiwola, we’re straight into our first magic performer of the evening. Billy Kidd makes a virtue out of a slightly awkward stage persona – relaxing the audience into her routine filled with sleight of hand, imagined cards and furniture, and some top-quality dad jokes. She also sets the tone for audience participation for the evening – a rarity, perhaps, but every time someone is called on to get involved it looks genuinely fun, rather than the cringy experience audience participation can sometimes turn out to be. We’re then into a heady mix of acts. Snookie Momo has some impressive sword swallowing skills, but didn’t seem to bring the audience along with him. Then Mark Oberon. With Mark coming in the middle of the show, it meant they categorically did not save the best for last. Among the standard stage magic tricks involving a copy of the Telegraph’s business pages, bottles of wine and pouring liquid, his understated and confident delivery of mind-reading and card tricks brings literal gasps of amazement from quite a few people. So good there may have been a few people happy to see him tried as a witch.
After this peak, we never really regain that level of engagement or excitement, though there’s a hefty level of skill on show. Tara Talland’s aerialist display is impressive and Abi Collin’s circus and singing segment is a gas. The progress of Fay Presto, wandering through the venue performing close-up magic tricks, can be tracked through happy shrieks and shouts of “how!” from the tables. The Matricks, a family act performing showy illusions (capably, but without much spark) are last up before Des and Chastity finished us off for the night.
It’s an attractive package – but it ebbs and flows. Maybe this is just the opening, maybe it’s structural – time will tell. There’s a lot of waiting around for the next (short) act or song from the hosts to begin. It seems a lot – nine acts in two and a half hours – but it feels a bit thin. Our adrenaline and happy chatter as we leave owes more to the highs of the high points than it creating a consistent level of engagement.
But overall, it’s loud, it’s fun, it’s confident – it’s cabaret, dear friends, from a top-quality team. The space is open as a café and bar from noon to midnight, with shows Tuesday to Sunday alongside some matinees. It’s set to be a varied, diverse and intriguing addition to the West End’s autumn – and maybe beyond.
Runs until 30 October 2022