Confessions of a Wicked virgin

Date Posted: 30/11/2016

Sarah Holt went along to watch a tenth anniversary showing of Wicked and discovered a production that’s acutely contemporary in light of the US election.  

I have been reviewing theatre for all my professional life. I’ve scribbled notes in dark auditoriums on everything from big West End blockbusters like Kinky Boots to rural touring productions of Shakespeare’s plays. 

I’m also a huge theatre fan in my personal life. With the exception of farce, I love all sorts of theatre – whether its acerbic apocalyptic plays like Mercury Fur or computer-crafted experimental musicals like Beyond the Fence

But for some reason, I’d never managed to catch a performance of Wicked

I’d always meant to. I read Gregory Maguire’s novel (which the show is based on) almost as soon as it was published (that was 1995) and the book, now with yellowing pages, still sits on my bookcase. I also read Maguire’s next novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.

Pictured: Scene from the West End's Wicked

So, when I walked through the doors of the Apollo Victoria Theatre last night to watch the musical for the first time, it felt like it had been a long time coming. 

The jump start I needed to finally get tickets came at the end of September, when my inbox was bombarded by news of the musical’s tenth anniversary. 

Looking at the images of the anniversary performance and all the stars it attracted reminded me that I’d missed out for too long. 

It didn’t take long after curtain up for me to start to understand why Wicked has become a West End veteran. 

The show has a finishing school-style polish to it. Let’s start with the costumes. They’re some of the best I’ve seen in the West End. The boned bodices, netted skirts, top hats and tailoring look like they belong in a John Paul Gautier catwalk show. 

The script is brilliant, too. Yes it’s entertaining, but it’s highly intelligent, too. 

Take the oz-isms, for example. These words, seeded throughout the show, are hybrids of English words, like confusifying, hideodious, devastrated and braverism. 

This clever dialect works like lines of longitude and latitude in subtly conveying the other-worldliness of Oz and the story that’s unfolding there. 

Pictured: Scene from Wicked

And then there’s the cast. In some West End musicals the creatives can be singers who act a bit, or actors who sing a bit. In this production, the leads are masters of both trades. 

The notes that come out of Elphaba, played by Rachel Tucker, will have you wondering if she’s got bellows for lungs. Then in the next scene her acting will have such an empathetic effect on you that you’ll feel like maggots in your guts. 

I guess, if you’ve seen Wicked before, none of this will be news to you. However, if you’ve not seen it for a while, I’d recommend making a boomerang visit. 

The reason? Despite being based on a story that was written more than 20 years ago, and having a script that’s essentially a decade old, this show could not be more contemporary. 

Its reflections on discrimination and intolerance couldn’t be more of our time in the wake of the rhetoric of the US election. 

The show’s happy ending in light of its themes is one that’s welcome; even more so now than when the production was first staged back in 2006. 

Wicked is currently running at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. To find out more visit www.wickedthemusical.co.uk/london

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