‘Wonderville Magic and Illusion’ is a love letter to magic for the ages
If Stan Lee had created the Marvel characters as magicians, then the acts in Wonderville Magic and Illusion would be the Avengers. This newly-created vaudevillian variety show brings together world-leading illusionists for a summer run at the Palace Theatre, famously home to the spellbinding play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Now believing in the impossible and seeing the unthinkable are difficult tasks, but it’s made easy thanks to the Wonderville performers. Wonderville rolls an evening of unbelievable stunts presented by consummate professionals.
Annabelle Mutale Reed directs a dynamic, pacy evening of magic, led by a teasing introduction of all the acts, which takes audiences through the history of the Palace Theatre and what it means for Wonderville to follow in its footsteps. This sizzling sextet of acts complement one another excellently, presenting their tricks with plenty of panache.
Now, for the magic itself, led by four acts who appear throughout the entire run. First up is Edward Hilsum, a baby-faced magician whose tricks are anything but childish. Pulling doves and roses out of thin air, Hilsum's act offers a light aperitif before the big guns later on. Hilsum radiates joy too, especially when he introduced the joy of live storytelling to a young audience member pulled on stage by giving them a coin. For all the unexplainable magic in Wonderville, there’s no words for what can be captured in teaching the next generation of theatregoers to love the arts.
Following Hilsum was Chris Cox, a zany mindreader who’d been charged with enough electricity to light up the Palace. Bursting onstage, he had viewers in the palm of his hands as a master of minds and audience interaction. His razor-sharp wit proved an obvious hit with the audience too; a standing ovation mid-show with a pink My Little Pony reveal and creating a fashion campaign from reading an unsuspecting audience member's thoughts were great “how did they do that?” moments.
The schtick of stage illusionists Young & Strange more than made up for the well-known trick of sawing someone in half that's often seen on television. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for hoop artist Symoné. While her hoop skills had my head in circles, her five-minute appearance felt like a short change of the variety acts on offer.
There was also an unplanned disappearing act in Wonderville; illusionist Josephine Lee had to pull out at the last minute. But like a Duracell bunny coming out of the hat, audiences were treated to guest magician and comedian Kat Hudson buzzing around the Palace stage with iPhone tricks and a calculator conundrum. Arguably my favourite act of the night though was guest star Emily England, a femme fatale of sleight of hand magic and contortion who made decks of cards appear from nowhere.
For a magic show that relies on closeup views to impress, the Palace Theatre may be a barn too big. In one section, cameras are used to show a trick’s final punch, so it felt a shame for cameras to not be used throughout. In fact, the screen was used for pre-show advertising more than during the show.
Magic shows have been a staple of West End entertainment for decades now, and they’re making a welcome resurgence post-pandemic. Magic Goes Wrong will make audiences gasp once more at the Apollo Theatre, while the Underbelly Festival welcomes tricksters in an intimate setting. But Wonderville Magic and Illusion really is the full shebang. A variety performance that mesmerises its audiences, you’ll be forgiven for wishing you could make a career change and run away with the circus. The only trick the show needs to pull off now is finding a permanent London billing.
Photo credit: Wonderville Magic and Illusion (Photo by Pamela Raith)