Review: Wicked (Apollo Victoria, London)

Note: Review is based on my third trip to see the production and therefore reflects my current views rather than those of the first time I visited.

What’s it all about?

Two girls growing into women. One popular, pink and loved by all around her; the other green-skinned, cursed from the moment she was born and loathed by her own family. The two are thrown together at a young age, eventually becoming good friends and growing up helping and hating each other as the years go by. This is the back story of Glinda the good and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West, and a look at how the two became the characters we know them to be in the Wizard of Oz.

The words…

While the story by Winnie Holzman is a nice one, that’s not to say there’s a huge amount of depth to it, and it seemed all the more noticeable on this occasion. Character intentions jump between scenes quite jarringly to the point that they make the roles seem less developed than they actually are. This is already a heavily watered down version of the original book by Gregory Maguire, and the script seemed as all the weaker this time around.

During the setup we go from Elphaba and Glinda disliking each other to being the best of friends within a matter of minutes, and the concluding moments feel half-finished and somewhat rushed. There’s never really a conclusion to the disagreement between the two leads; they just kind of decide they like each other again. It’s not a big issue, and one that I would tend to overlook, but for a show that talks about its ideologies and themes of friendship, I would expect the overall narrative to be stronger rather than just a vehicle for moving between the musical moments.

The talent…

At the end of the day, with a relatively shallow book, the cast have and always will be the part of Wicked that brings it together. Unfortunately, on this visit they left me wanting more. While both the leads did a good job in their roles, the supporting cast felt slightly lacklustre – most failing to make an impression as they plodded on through the show. As Glinda, Savannah Stevenson does a good job of being the slightly zany blonde girl with an ambition (even if it shows she has been doing it for some time), but the surprise standout was Emma Hatton as Elphaba. Early reports of her when she started in the role were somewhat mixed, but it’s safe to say she has settled. She was strongest as the younger Elphaba, playing up the tomboy side of the character, but developed well throughout the show, and was hands down the member of the cast who seemed most fresh. As for her voice, it was almost flawless – how such a tiny person can produce such a big belt is beyond me. Of the entire cast, she is the one who I would be happiest seeing again.

The music…

Whether you know the musical or not, it’s hard not to be familiar with at least one song from the show: ‘Defying Gravity’. It has embedded itself in pop culture over the years, through exposure on TV and films, and remains a favourite of teenage girls across the world. That said, it’s not necessarily the strongest part of what is on the whole a solid musical score by Stephen Schwartz. From rousing ensemble numbers to kick things off – ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’ is a particular favourite that gets things going with a real bang and bubble, and ‘What is this Feeling?’ has more sass than Soho on a Saturday night – to touching moments between the two leads, including the obvious ‘For Good’ and the less obvious and more comedic ‘Popular’, this really does have something to satisfy most audiences. This is light and dark and every shade of pink and green in-between, covering the vivacious and the vindictive sides of the show.

The design…

I’m always a fan of a well decorated proscenium, and there’s no doubt that Wicked has one of the more impressive ones in London, which is helpful in filling the barn that is the Apollo Victoria. Throughout, the visuals represent the Clock of the Time Dragon, with backdrops of time hands and borders made up of cogs. On the whole this isn’t the most complicated set, but it goes for impact rather than complexity, and the clocks are a nice visual reference running throughout. Ultimately though, the staging rests on a couple of key moments which are delivered effectively through stage mechanics and little need for anything else – Glinda’s bubble and the conclusion to act one being two such moments. Despite my reservations about the impact of the show on repeat viewing, the design is one thing that never fails to impress.

The special mention…

Special mention for Wicked has to be for Kenneth Posner’s lighting design. While not at all naturalistic, it really is stunning in creating visual snapshots throughout. It’s never more effective than in the final moments of ‘Defying Gravity’ where the billowing lights help frame the terror and menace of Elphaba as she towers over the cast.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

This was my third time seeing the show and while it was still an enjoyable view and listen, it seemed lacking in something. There’s definitely less energy throughout and, with the exception of the leads, the cast seemed to be plodding through. On the third viewing, the thin plot was more obvious and the spectacle seemed less, well, spectacular. Still an essential show for the first time audience, but it will take quite a bit to get me back for a fourth visit.

Wicked is currently playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and is booking until 5th November 2016, although don’t expect it to end there. Tickets are available through the Ambassador Theatre Group website.

And the view…

Stalls, Row W, Seat 9. This was a really great view for the price. It is a second price seat so you are a bit further away but the view is completely uninterrupted by any heads because it’s on the aisle and the angle of the row means the stage is completely to the left of the person in front. This meant it was also great for legroom. My only gripe was that the sound seemed quite hollow from this spot. I’ve only ever say in the circle here before and it was much better up there.

Apollo Victoria Theatre Stalls Row W Seat 9
Apollo Victoria Theatre Stalls, Row W, Seat 8
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