Theatre Peckham’s Christmas show returns this year, with the usual mix of professional performers and Young Company (made up of children from Theatre Peckham’s Academy) taking to the stage for a perfectly Peckham re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz. We headed along to the press night of The Wonderful where we were transported from SE15 to the mystical land of Ozanda. And we had a wonderful time!
Written by Geoff Aymer and directed by Theatre Peckham’s Artistic Director and CEO, Suzann McLean, The Wonderful is a fantastically fresh take on the classic story. The action takes place much closer to home than Kansas and there’s no Dorothy or Auntie Em in sight. Instead, we’re introduced to protagonist Efe (Ashleigh-Mae Schoburgh-Crooks), who is causing chaos in Nanna Emi’s takeaway in Peckham until a spectacular storm sweeps her and her little dog, Tik Tok (Sebastian Chambers) away to Ozanda. Lauded as a queen for accidentally splatting a wicked tyrant, Efe (now sporting a pair of sparkly kicks) embarks on an adventure to find The Wonderful, who she is assured will help her make her way home. En route she collects a trio of companions; the straw-brained but fabulous mannequin “Manny” (Billy Lynch), cyborg Cyri (Amy Bianchi) who isn’t programmed to feel emotions, and streetwise Mane Man (Khariis Ubiaro), whose fierce front conceals quite the scaredy cat. They all want something from The Wonderful but, as you might expect, he requires a small favour in return. Can they defeat the evil Aygum and and get Efe home to Peckham?
It’s a fun-filled show, which absolutely succeeds in its mission to “celebrate the rich cultural intersectionality” of the community that the theatre serves. Fusing Afrofuturism (which the programme informed us is a “combination of science fiction, fantasy, magic realism and ancient African tradition”) with modern day Peckham, it boasts a witty script and a score (by composers Jordan Xavier and Nick Bowers-Broadbent) laced with Afro beats and Hip Hop. Be warned – You may find that the title song is stuck in your head for days afterwards!
We loved Billy Lynch as the high-kicking, waacking Manny and his interactions with the very straight-laced, logical Cyri. Khariis Ubiaro’s Mane Man also gets an awful lot of laughs, with gags about not touching his afro hair going down especially well. But it’s the Young Company who get the biggest applause and deservedly so. As usual, they’re split into two teams who rotate performances. We may have only seen one team in action but we were able to experience the full force of the Young Company camaraderie, as we sat in the front row with Orange Team who were there cheering on their Blue Team counterparts. Between them, this talented group of youngsters showcase a broad range of skills, with some very impressive singing, dancing and acting on display. And while we wouldn’t ordinarily want to single anyone out in a youth performance, it’s fair to say that pint size Alexander Joseph is quite the scene stealer!
The show carries an important message about encouraging young people to believe in themselves, so it feels particularly joyful to watch this group of young performers having so much fun on stage. It’s always a highlight of the Theatre Peckham Christmas show to see children front and centre alongside professionals, and this production feels even more special after the adversity of the last couple of years. Not only is the show a celebration of diversity and community but Theatre Peckham itself is also a very welcoming, inclusive venue. It was great to see gender neutral toilets as well as staff members wearing name badges bearing their pronouns. The audience were also treated to button badges bearing the slogan “There’s no place like Peckham” and they couldn’t be more apt.
If you are looking to escape London life for something more exciting, we suggest following the not-so yellow Peckham Road down to Theatre Peckham for an uplifting evening in the magical land of Ozanda. It may not be the Wizard of Oz as you know it but it is a wonderful show put together by some talented brains, and performed with courage and a whole load of heart.
The Wonderful runs at Theatre Peckham from 1 to 22 December 2021. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on 2 December.