Performers: Chris Cox, Young & Strange, Edward Hilsum, Symone, Kat Hudson, and Emily England
Director: Annabel Mutale Reed
The recent release from lockdown confinements has meant that a number of theatres are not ready for their traditional productions. This hiccough in planning has opened the door for a host of short-run entertainment shows that are popping up across London, bringing back a time when variety shows were a staple on the London stage.
The latest to join this trend and setting up home, in place of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre is Wonderville: Magic & Illusion, a multi-performer variety show based around magic acts. The show focuses on five core acts with a changing cast of guest acts that are scheduled throughout the run.
Leading the charge at Wonderville is Chris Cox, a mind reader with the look, dialogue, and energy of a children’s TV presenter. Despite this, his obvious enthusiasm and excitement at being in the show is infectious and he commands the audience perfectly. He is hugely likeable, and his patter is, as with all the best kids’ entertainers, pitched perfectly to appeal to the younger audience members but with enough nuance to give the adults a secondary giggle. Despite, or maybe because of his comic foolishness, his delivery and accuracy of his mind reading skills is quite something to watch, giving the audience that magical blend of wow and how.
Edward Hilsum follows with a sleight of hand performance that, whilst assured, is slightly on the nervous side. His act is very suited to the Victorian backdrop that’s a remnant of the Harry Potter production that usually fills this stage. It’s the type of magic that you’d expect to see at a kids’ party; making small balls appear and disappear, turning handkerchiefs into confetti, striking a match from under your collar. It’s entertaining if a little flat. However, seeing him produce live doves from nowhere is a genuine thrill.
Young & Strange are a comic illusionist duo who liken themselves to Vegas acts like Siegfried & Roy, except without the big budget illusions. They’re a fun coupling delivering often-seen illusions with humour and a rocking 80’s soundtrack. You get the classic illusions of cutting people in half, and making people appear and disappear, all delivered with high energy and still able to draw gasps of bewilderment.
Rounding out the ‘core performers’ is Symone, a roller-skating hula-hooper. The only performer of the evening not to include magic or illusion, she gives an enjoyable, if lacklustre, performance that you feel would be more exciting and entertaining if she wasn’t encumbered by the roller skates.
Kat Hudson and Emily England were the night’s two guest performers, each delivering solid performances, though possibly slightly nervous in their delivery.
None of the acts is doing anything new or inventive. Everything on stage has been seen many times on TV across talent shows, variety performances, and chat shows, but there’s something to be said about seeing such trickery done live on stage. We probably know how many of the tricks are done, but seeing it live gives the whole experience a real sense of wonder.
Overall, Wonderville is highly entertaining and, at times, thrilling. It’s a fantastic family show that makes you wish for the days when such variety productions were a staple in theatres up and down the country. Hopefully, if this proves to be a success, we may get more entertainment like this more often.
Runs until 30 August 2021