WONDERVILLE: MAGIC & CABARET at Wonderville
“it’s encouraging that the producers are bringing traditional variety and cabaret to the central West End”
Magic, comedy, circus and cabaret combine for a new version of a show that wowed audiences at London’s Palace Theatre last year.
“Wonderville: Magic & Cabaret” is a more intimate rendering of “Wonderville: Magic & Illusion” with the advantage of being staged in its own venue (formerly Planet Hollywood) in the Haymarket. While currently taking bookings until the end of October producers are hoping the residency will be more permanent.
The magic begins the moment you enter the venue as designer Justin Williams has created not just a striking environment but a beautiful setting where the café, bar and theatre reflect the cabaret show itself.
On normal nights each show features acts from a roster which currently includes Chastity Belt, Desmond O’Connor, Mysti Vine (the three take their turn as hosts), Billy Kidd, Matricks, Dee Riley, Marc Oberon, Aurora Starr, Abi Collins, Tara Talland, Snookie Mono and Pi the Mime. On opening night we were treated to 10 acts and it was a particular joy to see the incomparable and legendary Fay Presto touring the tables beforehand and during the breaks for some close-up magic.
The cabaret table layout means there is a lot of opportunity for engagement between the performers and audience and while this can be achieved in a typical theatre auditorium, there is no denying that the smaller purpose-built “Wonderville” venue lends itself to close-up magic, an in-your-face sauciness and immersive entertainment.
The layout also means that acts wanting to engage with audience members or even walk around the floor often have to squeeze past them somewhat unceremoniously.
It’s unfortunate that a side balcony, which is on the same side as the small stage, means people sitting towards the back of it cannot see much of the entertainment and several of us there on press night ended up standing.
The atmosphere is one of burlesque, Vaudeville, spectacle and charm with each act given quite a short opportunity to show off their talents, though of course this is much in the tradition of classic variety shows.
While it is in the very capable hands of creative director Laura Corcoran and magic consultant Chris Cox there are many moments in the show which make it feel as though it’s been cobbled together at the last moment, with some of the performers seeming strangely ill at ease.
If the idea of the venue is to experience “the magic of magic” it seems odd not to have that as a running theme to give some cohesiveness to the evening. While the experienced cabaret hosts were enormous fun the choice of songs (after a promising opening of “A Kind of Magic”) was bizarre, however well performed – a singalong “Jungle Book” medley, “Life on Mars” and a Diamond medley seem unrelated to anything else.
There is also an overlap between some of the acts – charismatic Billy Kidd’s card tricks are terrific but largely repeated by Marc Oberon, while Amazi’s opening hoop spinning is pretty much done again by Abi Collins, though the latter’s act as man-eating lush Ritzi Crackers is one of the evening’s highlights.
Snookie Mono brings delightfully unexpected campness to sword-swallowing while Tara Talland’s hair-hanging draws sharp intakes of breath, though expecting an entire table to move out of the way in order for her to perform is clumsy.
The Matricks perform the most ambitious of the routines with Alexander Jesson smoothly presenting appearing girls, levitation and a skewered crate to thrilling effect.
Des O’Connor provides energy and humour as one of the hosts but it is Chastity Belt who commands the most attention, belting out numbers as though the venue was ten times the size, quickly having rapport with the audience and demonstrating her seasoned professionalism with sparkle.
While “Wonderville: Magic & Cabaret” might more naturally have a home in, say, The Vaults at Waterloo, it’s encouraging that the producers are bringing traditional variety and cabaret to the central West End. Even if the show needs a bit of tidying up one suspects something will be pulled out of the hat as the season progresses.
Reviewed on 16th August 2022
by David Guest
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