”Wonderville” at the Haymarket in the West End – review

© Mark Senior

In that peculiar post-pandemic era of 2021, when social distancing was still all the rage and before the Harry Potters and Play That Goes Wrongs of the West End had re-opened, there was a surprisingly joyous period when new and exciting material was filling those stages and were taking the opportunity to shine before the ‘big boys’ returned once more. One such show was a collection of magic and variety acts in the shape of Wonderville at the Palace.

A year later and the show has returned, and this time has a permanent home on the Haymarket. The former Planet Hollywood restaurant has been transformed into an intimate cabaret venue that plays host to a revolving merry-go-round of 50 different magic and variety acts – you never know which ones you’ll get on any given night but the purpose of the evening, we are told, is to experience the “magic, of magic”.

The result of such a – albeit very skilled and talented – large collection is that there is a lack of cohesion to an evening that rather ironically might be missing, well, magic. Where Wonderville really hits the spot however, is in its cabaret performances that are woven into this mismatched affair. It is the combination of some really hilarious comedy moments and some belting singing that lift the show from what might otherwise look more fitting in a Benidorm all-inclusive, to an enjoyable West End nugget of fun.

Des O’Connor (the last surviving member of a long line of Des O’Connor’s) is one of the evening’s MC’s and makes a brief attempt at some sort of narrative in taking us back 150 years to a time before the Wireless, TV and even TikTok. This quickly fizzles out though before a string of magic acts are introduced onto the small stage – although not before leading a random Jungle Book sing-along for some bizarre reason.

Billy Kidd and Marc Oberon both provide the obligatory card tricks, with Oberon in particular needing an injection of charisma to his performance to fully engage the crowd. Snookie Mono pitches his sword swallowing act perfectly with a sequined campness that works brilliantly. Turfing customers out of their seats in order to clear the way for Tara Talland’s aerial act in the middle of the room is an awkwardly messy moment that highlights the shortcomings of the space in which the show is now housed. The only real spectacle comes from the magic trio of The Matricks with their levitating and crate skewering illusions – neither of which are particularly new but are still impressive nonetheless.

Show-stopping comedy comes from Abi Collins as Ritzi Crackers, a martini-drinking lush that cruises for pray amongst the socially anxious audience like a man-eating mantis. Her impressive hula-hooping delivers plenty of hilarity that is mainly aimed at poor old Mark from Ascot, who was the unsuspecting ‘volunteer’ on press night – be warned if you’re sitting near the front.

It is the second MC, Chastity Belt that commands most attention however. A natural cabaret performer, she works the audience with a sultry ease and belts out stonking versions of the Diamond Medley from Moulin Rouge and Bowie’s “Life on Mars”. Her sequined presence throughout proceedings provide the sparkled glue for an otherwise confused evening of highs and lows.

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Closed: 30 October 2022