Photo credit: Matt Crockett
It’s been just over fourteen years since I saw Wicked – and just under four years since I last set foot in the building. In December 2019 I did a venue tour of the Apollo Victoria Theatre, in which various ATG staff took a small group of us around both the inside and outside the building. Different sections of the tour evidently appealed to different people, and I agreed to it because the theatre made a point of saying it was not a tour of Wicked. I enjoyed the 2019 building tour. But I did not enjoy my visit to Wicked in 2009, and I gave it a two-star review on Ticketmaster (which has long since disappeared from the site, and I never retained a copy of what I wrote).
The 2009 Elphaba is the same one as in 2023, Alexia Khadime. Back in the day her co-star as Glinda was Dianne Pilkington, and in the current season it’s Lucy St. Louis, except she was on holiday when I went, so we enjoyed the talents of the very capable Christine Tucker. Annoyingly, there wasn’t a cast board, or if there was one, I couldn’t find it – and so thanks, as ever, to the lads behind the West End Understudies X account.
Glinda (Christine Tucker). Headshot stolen off the Wicked musical website.
Perhaps I was in a stroppy mood in 2009 because both before the show and again at the interval, I had some rather nasty people rudely demanding to know what seat number I was in. None had ‘thank you’ in their vocabulary, and the chap sitting next to me couldn’t believe the incivility either, which put him in a difficult position, because he had brought his young son along to the show, and thus the boy was witnessing adults behaving like beasts, which might have given him the impression that such conduct was acceptable. I had difficulty in the interval navigating my way to the conveniences, then to the ice cream stand, then back to my seat, and nobody would give way – and then there were the nasty stories in those days about Wicked fans at stage door. I never went to stage door, but for years after I always associated poor conduct at the theatre with Wicked fans, especially as they would brandish Wicked merchandise, such as branded clothes and bags, even when attending other productions. It couldn’t have been good marketing for the show, feral youths cutting people up, queue jumping (into venues with numbered seating!), talking at full conversational volume at regular points during the show, and so on.
Fiyero (Oliver Tompsett) and Elphaba (Alexia Khadime), 2008-09 Wicked London cast
Things were more leisurely in 2023, and the building tour I went on four years ago explained some of the changes, including an increased number of lavatories for women, to take into account the demographics of the audience Wicked tends to draw. Coming back to it after so long, it might well be another fourteen years before I bother going back a third time: I still find many of the musical numbers rather dull. I recall a young, tall and handsome Oliver Tompsett playing Fiyero in 2009, and goodness me, he’s done a lot since then.
Different parts of the show have aged better than others. Consider, for instance, the mob mentality, which has its equivalents on social media. When the ‘Ozians’ set about trying to kill Elphaba, it’s rather like any number of people who suddenly become persona non grata overnight, with certain people baying for blood. Elphaba’s pushback against the establishment has very grave consequences – to misquote a saying attributed to Michael Heseltine, she who wields the knife never wears the crown. She might as well have been any of the various journalists in undemocratic countries whose voices have, one way or another, been silenced.
I still have questions about the narrative – who, exactly, is responsible for the animal kingdom losing their ability to speak English (this is the fantasy world of Oz, remember) if The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Mark Curry), who Elphaba accuses of being behind the erosion of animal rights, has no such authority? Elphaba’s magic powers allow wheelchair user Nessarose (Caitlin Anderson) to walk, which makes Fiyero (Ryan Reid) almost immediately conclude that she might have a future after all: is this is an outdated viewpoint? Doubtless, there are still many discriminatory barriers for wheelchair users in contemporary society, with a considerable number of theatres and other buildings open to the public that are still not fully accessible. But people come to the theatre for escapism – do wheelchair users really need that kind of reality thrust in their faces?
Elsewhere, TikTok is name-dropped, and the idea of Glinda as an influencer goes well with someone who considers herself an encourager, and goes to some lengths to maintain a positive image, trying to be as uncontroversial as possible when dealing with difficult subjects. As far as I could tell, everything worked as it should. I recall the days when Nessarose’s wheelchair wouldn’t actually move on stage – Elphaba’s magic powers are supposed to make the chair move – which made Nessarose’s cry of “Elphaba, stop it!” completely ridiculous. On this occasion, the sound of the orchestra was a bit muffled from where I was sat. Not quite a wicked waste of time, but I can confidently say I dislike it less than I used to. So, an extra star this time around.