Review: Wicked, Victoria Apollo, London – 24 September 2016

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Diane modelling one of the ladies’ fit official t-shirts.

At the weekend we headed off to London for a first for both of us: a live London musical. This is one Devon recommended to me a while ago and I’ve wanted to see it ever since.

We bought our train tickets well in advance, on 16 August. We were travelling from Birmingham as my dad was looking after the dog overnight for us, and return tickets to London are usually quite expensive.

However, I was able to secure 2 singles each way for £11 each (apx $14) – the returns started at sixty-odd pounds (apx $80 US) and reached as much as £143 (apx $185 US) – and the seat reservations were FREE. What a bonus those were. The 11-coach train going and the 10-coach train coming back were both rammed to the rafters.

Our train left on time and it arrived around 3 – 4 minutes ahead of schedule. Coming back it was bang on time. Well done Virgin Trains.

Our accommodation for the night was Travelodge Euston. It was reasonably priced for a central London hotel for less than £170 altogether (apx $220 US) and I don’t think we could have got much closer to our railway station, as it’s just across the road.

At the time of booking, we also booked an included breakfast, 24 hours of wi-fi and an early check-in, so we were able to go there first, dump our luggage, freshen up and get changed in good time for the matinee performance.

The hotel itself was quite warm and stuffy in the public areas, but the room was deliciously cool and not so cold that we needed an extra layer. The carpets were a little tired and grubby, but security was very good, the room was comfortable, and the food was great. You can choose from a light unlimited breakfast or a full unlimited breakfast. The poet had full-English followed by toast while I had a slightly smaller English followed by cereal. We didn’t eat in the restaurant on the evening as we had to eat mostly on the hoof in between events and places.

We could have done with some extra storage space in the room for clothes that don’t usually go on hangers. But there was a new television in there with plenty of channels to choose from, and we were high enough up, on the top floor, that the sounds of Euston didn’t reach us.

The Apollo Victoria theatre is only a few minutes away on the Victoria line tube. We weren’t sure how close to the main station it was, though, so we asked one of the tourist information officers. “Outside,” she said, pointing to one of the exits. Well, that narrowed it down, we said, but we’d already guessed it would be outside somewhere. Never mind, we’d ask someone else once we got outside

… but when we got outside, there indeed it was. Right opposite us! (We took it all back!)

What a lovely old theatre this is. It was designed in 1929 and opened in 1930, initially as a cinema, and the first thing we noticed was the wonderful art deco interior. The lighting was soft and there were fairytale-grotto-like features throughout, in the foyers and bars and inside the auditorium.

The drinks were a little expensive for us. It cost £19 (apx $25 US) for 2 glasses of pop and 2 small bottles of lager, but we did like the fact that we could order and pay for our interval drinks too (included in the £19! – we couldn’t afford much more). The theatre is a little tired-looking, needing paint touched up on the stairs, for example, with very small toilet cubicles, toilet doors that didn’t close properly let alone lock, and quite primitive plumbing. But it’s still a magical place.

The poet bought me a t-shirt, which cost £25 (apx $32 US), and I was mortified to have to buy a size XL, but they’re VERY small, and the t-shirt I chose was a “ladies’ fit” t-shirt. These usually come quite tight and quite short. I’m very happy with the fit and the length of this one, but XL? No wonder we get paranoid about our weight!

Our seats were right at the front of the dress circle. We’d noted the requirement to “dress” for the occasion, and had done our best. But when we got there we realised we could have gone in ordinary jeans if we’d wanted. That always disappoints me if I’ve dressed up for something and didn’t need to, even if “dressing up” does only constitute a button-up shirt instead of my usual t-shirt.

We had quite a good view and were delighted to see that we could take our refreshments to our seats or have further refreshments delivered to our seats. The poet did have to ask a hen party in front of us (at the rear of the front circle) to remove their witches’ hats for us, so we could see, and I had to ask a lady next to us to keep her 2 children under control – they chattered at the top of their voices for most of the performance (which is a VERY long performance) and when the said hen party ladies in front of us even started to turn around and glare at them halfway through the second part, I decided it was a reasonable point for me to remind the parent that the rest of us were trying to listen to a show we’d paid good money for (bah, humbug). But it was a terrific show.

The sets were great. The actors were great. The music was great. Once or twice I found the whole ensemble singing and playing at the top of their voices and notes to be a bit of a cacophony. But the poet loved every single second, clapping the loudest, whistling. I thought the costumes were brilliant, they looked very well made. And the special effects were perfect.

The performance started at 2:30pm and the interval was at 4pm. It restarted again at 4:20pm and finished about an hour later. That’s quite a long time for the performers to be working, and they do it 8 times a week.

We paid £68.75 each for our seats (apx $90 US), plus booking fee, and we thought it was worth every penny.

Wicked has been playing at the Victoria Apollo in London since 2006 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This will probably explain the professionalism of the sets and the costumes, they all looked so permanent. The main cast changes every few months, but we saw Suzie Mathers as Glinda, Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, Anita Dobson as Madame Morrible, Mark Curry as the Wizard of Oz, and Oliver Saville as Fiyero. The book the story is based on was published in 1995 as Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, and was written while the author was living in London in 1990.

(This review also appears on Diane’s Gig List.)