Monday, 2 August 2021

REVIEW: Wonderville at the Palace Theatre

There are many reasons to support, promote and see this show in its West End run during August at the Palace Theatre before the real magic returns with Harry Potter and The Cursed Child later this year. We should applaud Nica Burns who runs the theatre and has encouraged young producers to stage new shows in the West End before it becomes viable for the bigger shows to return. We should thank those Producers who have assembled a good lineup of magic, illusion, and variety to entertain audiences. We should cheer the young energetic cast who deliver this two-hour show. But most of all we should thank the audience which on my visit included a diverse group of people with many young children who have ventured out to see the show. The resulting shared experience is fun, entertaining and a diversion from the past eighteen months.

Chris Cox, who is also the Magic and Illusion Assistant on the Cursed Child, leads the cast throughout with his jovial brand of mind-reading. It is the way he tells it that engages the audience. We never really believe that he can mind read instead relying on technology to provide the answers to the questions he poses but he does it with such enthusiasm, bouncing around the stage, griming widely that we can help but enjoy his showmanship. His mind-reading of a nine-year-old girl’s Fashion Designs including the brand name she has selected is a brilliantly executed routine. His second routine picking audience members to mind read from “Control Chris Cards” filled in at the start of the show is amusing and quick-paced but less convincing.

Josephine Lee is a very good female illusionist and although we think we know how the tricks are executed it is always a joy to see magic performed live. The small cube expanded to a large box for her assistant to step into before three large swords are pushed through is slickly staged. Her escape from being chained to metal bars is routine but her main illusion of being put in a box before making a surprising reappearance is always impressive in its simplicity.

Edward Hilsum brings sleight of hand magic with red balls, candles and pigeons to the stage wrapped up in a story of his own first magic experiences as a seven-year-old. Again, although we think we can see the moments when the hands are refilled for the next element it is the very act of trying to spot it that provides the entertainment. When he gets a small boy on stage and performs similar tricks as if the boy himself is doing them it becomes a charming reimagining of the inspiration that got him into magic.

Throughout the run, they introduce guest acts. Emily England was in our show, a magic assistant who wanted to take centre stage and combines her circus skills with some effective sleight of hand with a floating Fluorescent tube and packs of cards in her Magic debut. Curiously they choose Symone, a roller-skating hula hoop artiste to close the first act which adds variety but does not bring the half to a closing crescendo!

The big climaxes are provided by Young and Strange, a double act with a hint of Penn and Teller about them. They may not have the jeopardy and sense of danger of some of the acts that were in the West End show Impossible but when Young climbs into a cardboard box, Strange delights in ramming wooden poles into it with ferocity and speed that it feels impossible to avoid inside! Equally delightful is when Young is placed in a box and squeezed down so his feet and head nearly meet. Then they deliver the show highlight with a group of “Las Vegas” style illusions delivered in quick succession including a most impressive circular sawing an assistant in half. It felt like these acts should have closed each act with a bang.

Throughout there are historical magician stories, plenty of touching references to how their interest in magic developed and encouragement for the next generation to take up magic which adds charm to the show. But most of all there a is a strong sense that cast and audience are glad to be back together in a live theatre enjoying a show.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row D | Price of Ticket: £72

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