There are wizards everywhere at the Palace Theatre. While posters outside advertise the return of Harry Potter in October there is already magic here for the summer. Wonderville gathers together a formidable troupe of illusionists and mentalists, mixing wow moments with so-so moments.
The MC is Chris Cox, whose geeky bow-tied appearance conceals a, well, geeky obsession with mind-reading. How he knows the number plate of the car driven by the man in front of me is a total mystery unless it was his Uber driver. If anything Cox almost makes miraculous feats appear too easy. Full marks though for not being derailed by the world’s most sullen audience volunteer.
Cox links a succession of skillful performers who each have a special something up their sleeves. Literally in the case of Edward Hilsum, who produces endless doves and seems to have so much control over them you may well think they are animatronic. It is no surprise the Magic Circle voted him Stage Magician of the Year in 2018.
This is a traditional, old-school show at heart but at least it has a woman in the line-up who is not an assistant. Josephine Lee puts a stylish spin on familiar disappearing acts. Even if you have an inkling of how it is done – as far as I know she does not have an identical twin – it never ceases to be enjoyable.
There is more fun to be had with duo Young & Strange, who add knockabout comedy to their retro trickery. The old spears-through-a-man-in-a-box routine has a pleasurable pay-off and there is a hilarious clip of them gatecrashing a Sky News report outside Westminster. Though the fact that it was during a story about David Cameron does rather date it.
Young & Strange are the stand-out stars, although if they ever make acrobatics combined with card trickery an Olympic event, special guest Emily England could sweep to victory. By contrast hula hoop exponent Symoné feels like she has been parachuted in from an entirely different variety-based show.
The hula hoop section highlights the identity crisis of Wonderville. At one point it sends up 1980s Vegas cabaret, yet when not sending it up, it feels pretty close to 1980s Vegas cabaret itself. The return of Young & Strange piling trick upon trick upon trick, backed by bombastic power ballads, felt like a natural big finish, so it was odd that there was more.
There is lots to enjoy here, but do not be fooled into thinking you are witnessing the future of magic. This is about as convincingly cutting edge as the blade that ‘slices’ one of the various helpers in half.
Palace Theatre, W1 to August 30; nimaxtheatres.com