fri 30/09/2022

Wonderville Magic and Cabaret review - fast-paced show delivers the promised wonder | reviews, news & interviews

Wonderville Magic and Cabaret review - fast-paced show delivers the promised wonder

Wonderville Magic and Cabaret review - fast-paced show delivers the promised wonder

Leave memories of Paul Daniels at the door and embrace the sweet deception inside

Chastity Belt: plenty of belt, not so much chastityImages by Mark Senior

There’s nothing quite like magic, live, up close and personal. Sure there are the TV spectaculars, the casino resort mega-shows and even The Masked Magician to pull back the curtains, but there’s a frisson in the air when the card that’s in your head appears in the conjuror’s hand.

Roll in a spot of cabaret and circus and the tang of transgression tingles on the tongue, the grim world of the natural sliding away, the supernatural its welcome substitute. 

Such is the aim behind the West End’s new, purpose-built, magic/cabaret venue, Wonderville, the brainchild of creative director Laura Corcoran and magic consultant Chris Cox, with the bar and performance space designed by seven times Offie-nominated Justin Williams. Open midday to midnight, with performances in the evenings and weekend afternoons, it’s a Vegas-style venue that offers a unique experience from the moment you walk into the old Planet Hollywood building. Some might say that they’ll need a bit of magic to get through the winds of the coming autumn, but the Wonderville concept proved itself last year at the Palace Theatre, so they’ve as good a chance as any.WondervilleOn opening night, the seated audience were privy to the kind of bill that one can expect, a mix of up-and-coming talents and old hands, singing and comedy, magic and mystery – something for everyone and, even if one act wasn’t quite what you wanted, there’s another just round the corner, the pace relentless.

Desmond O’Connor and Chastity Belt were our MCs, Ms Belt joshing with the audience (there is some participation, but no humiliation) and knocking out lounge versions of “London Calling” and “Life On Mars” amongst other unlikely numbers – and they worked surprisingly well. There is just enough space for an onstage band and, I hope, plans for one, as it does feel like the one piece of the jigsaw that’s missing.

Fay Presto, the grande dame of British close-up magic, had lurked in the shadows emerging to visit tables and make things appear and disappear at will. She reminded me of one of the underplayed aspects of magic – even if you’ve seen the tricks before, even if you know that it’s going to be your card that’s face-up in the pack, even if you pulled off something similar yourself after lunch one Christmas Day for the kids, you can still sit back and admire the craft. Like observing a pickpocket working a crowd, you can’t help feeling a touch of guilty voyeurism, but it's leavened with a respect for the time and effort required to perfect the craft.

Hoops are hula-ed, a girl spins suspended by her hair (as is the case with ballet, proximity shows the physicality and balance such acts demand) and swords are swallowed – not something you would try with a covidy cough, I suspect. Ritzy Crackers (pictured above) has a lot of fun with a little flirtatious self-deprecation and a quick line with the salacious ad-libs.

On the magic side of the bill, Marc Oberon brought the wow factor (literally so – people involuntarily vocalised “Wow” as playing cards were summoned from the most unlikely places) and The Matricks made showgirls disappear and re-appear, with a lovely set of photos of the brother and sister team trying out tricks as kids. 

Those images were a reminder of the roots of the art, the willingness to be deceived by a trickster running centuries (probably millennia) in the human psyche. Like musical theatre, the art form has its detractors, even its edgier stars like David Blaine and Dynamo attracting negative comment almost as quickly as they attracted the positive, with as brilliant a showman as Derren Brown careful in limiting his appearances on TV and the live stage. 

But embracing the, er… magic, opens the door to the wonder the venue promises. It’s always easy to be "too cool for school" with shows like this, but you’re only fooling yourself – and it’s more fun to let the magicians do that.  

People involuntarily vocalised 'Wow' as playing cards were summoned from the most unlikely places

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters