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BWW Review: WONDERVILLE, Palace Theatre


A trip to a place of wonder in the West End


WondervilleThere's a scene in Christopher Nolan's first feature film, Following, in which a burglar is explaining the impact of stealing personal objects of sentimental value. He explains how they're actually doing their victims a favour - "You take it away... to show them what they had."

Maybe theatre's long closedown and haphazard return has done that on both sides of the fourth wall - probably more the case for a traditional magic show like this than for any other genre except pantomime. Our gawping mouths, our shock and delight, our shaking heads are the ambrosia on which these magicians feed - they know the tricks after all. When David Blaine revolutionised the art's presentation by turning the camera back on to the marks, he let us in on that incredible buzz, hitherto magic's greatest secret.

There's a lot of that delight in Wonderville, the magic and illusion show captivating, as the cliche has it, kids of all ages in the West End. What it lacks in consistent originality - multichannel TV and Youtube has ensured that we can watch magicians all day every day - it makes up for in the mind-bending experience of seeing this stuff live. You know what's happening because it's only a few feet away, but you still can't believe it!

Like all shows cut from the cabaret template, it needs a good MC and, in Chris Cox, we get one. He's all geek and glasses channeling much of the young Chris Evans' manic charm, leavened by a nice line in self-deprecation. The mentalist stuff he pulls off still has that eerie, slightly dangerous quality to it - he's only telling us some of what he sees in our heads after all...

Director, Annabel Mutale Reed, never lets the pace drop (crucial for a family audience) but finds room for plenty of changes in tone, so there's not a second that drags as acts come and go and costumes change.

A couple of guest spots showcase talents new to the West End (at press night, I saw Kat Hudson's Yorkshire-inflected patter and Emily England's contortions with cards) and there's splendid hoop work from Symoné, skating and shaking.

Young and Strange lend a bit of Vegas pizzazz with their variations on sawing a woman in half and other big illusions, with a smattering of music hall slapstick thrown in. There's one or two hiding places you can spot (hey, we've all seen The Masked Magician) but other tricks are crazy impossible. In any case, the trick's payoff, like a good joke, is in the set up and punch, so whether you know how it's done or not matters little.

Everyone will have their favourite act - mine was Edward Hilsum, a softly-spoken, old-school conjuror who had a touch of David Nixon about him. Technically accomplished, he really came into his own in some beautiful close work with Dev, a six year-old pulled from the stalls who could not have been more at ease and in synch with his new magical friend. It was lovely to see, Dev's trust in the conjuror and the conjuror's trust in him. You see this kind of interaction often in pantos, but seldom done so winningly - Dev should get a contract and his own credit in the programme.

And, just like that, it's done, the time having flown by, the entertainment as wondrous as promised in Wonderville.

Wonderville is at The Palace `Theatre until 30 August.

Photo: Pamela Raith

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