Celebrating Wicked UK’s 13th Birthday in the West End

Pippa and Kate stood up in front of green balloon photo wall

[GIFTED] Thank you so much to the Official London Theatre team for gifting us our Wicked tickets and for inviting us to celebrate the show’s 13th Birthday celebrations and official After-Party. Dreams really do come true!

Back when I first started theatre blogging, a very generous term for the shambolic rambling mess that constituted my early reviews, I could never have imagined that I’d be sitting here writing this piece one day.

I consider myself extremely lucky to receive West End invites somewhat regularly now, however the winning combination of chronic illnesses, chronic lack of time and chronic financial constraints means that they’re reluctantly declined around 90% of the time. When, however, the words ‘Wicked’, ‘press night’ and ‘after-party’ appeared in my inbox one afternoon, I found myself on the phone booking my accessible train tickets quicker than Glinda could say ‘toss-toss’.

As you may have seen on Instagram, Wicked marked the beginning of my entire theatre journey, back in 2008. Wicked was the first West End show I ever saw, back when I was thirteen years old, and now here we are: the show’s own thirteenth birthday… and somehow I’ve made it from the upper circle into the stalls. From an uber-fan to a press invite. So rather than review in-depth the spectacle of a show that means so much to me, instead I’d like to tell you about the whole experience, similarly to my Olivier Awards blog post last year. Is that cool with you? If so, grab yourself a cuppa and settle in…

Earlier, I touched on how exciting it can be to get a press invite, and how quickly that excitement can be replaced by struggling with the logistics. Even when tickets are generously gifted, which is no small thing for a renowned West End musical, financing the train travel from up North, as well as finding accessible accommodation, mean that the costs of attending can quickly mount up. Not to mention that these things usually happen during the working week, meaning strategising alternate work arrangements and finding a companion to come with me is no small task. However, we’re talking about Wicked here. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Even when there are two chronically ill power-chair users involved…

pippa and kate both sat in powerchairs and smiling, outdoors

Enter Kate, always up for an adventure and equally as hyped about Wicked as I am, making her the perfect plus one… and I promise I would have said that even before I found out about the cheeky Hilton Hotels discount she has access to. We met at the station, having both overcome the never-dull challenges of the British train assistance roulette, and made our way to our posh quarters for the evening.

The Hilton London Metropole hotel is stunning. It’s a little further out from the heart of theatreland, meaning that taxis were a necessity, but the establishment itself was absolutely gorgeous and made the perfect base for our adventures. Staff were friendly and attentive, and our room was beautiful. We fit two power-chairs through the door, Kate had her essential bath and I had my essential tea-making facilities, and so everybody was happy. Neither one of us are the best sleepers, so it was an added bonus to each have a Queen-size bed that were spaced remarkably far apart and added an element of privacy when we inevitably flopped and needed it.

After some downtime and *all* the free-from food (omitting my usually customary Yorica order, the loves of my life who for some reason weren’t the delivering that day), we started getting ready and even filmed some cheeky Get Ready With Me-style videos for Kate. In fact, we got so carried away chatting about theatre and disability and everything in-between that despite starting early, we still somehow ended up pushing it for time. However, suitably glammed up and somewhat recharged, off we went to the Apollo Victoria Theatre: remarkably, managing to fit both power-chairs in one black cab, in heels, with minimal catastrophe. Quite frankly I think we deserve some kind of national recognition for that accomplishment alone.

kate and pippa stood in stalls seats in theatre, with wicked stage in backgroundNow, here is where I wanted to talk a bit about our access experience at the theatre. Because despite multiple challenges, including the pavement being absolutely packed with people, the outdoor wheelchair-lift being broken and a lack of storage for our power-chairs during the show, the Apollo Victoria’s access team were awesome. To Lily, Louise, and the rest of the Front Of House team, thank you for being such a friendly and welcoming face right when we needed it. Throughout everything, they remained patient, attentive and vigilant in doing their best to meet our needs in less-than-ideal circumstances. Thanks to them, we eventually managed to leave our mobility aids safely in their hands and (fortunately but carefully, as we can both manage stairs when necessary) make our way to our seats in the stalls.

Of course, the production was every bit as magical as I’d anticipated, and I actually felt quite emotional as soon as Act One began. It hasn’t been an easy path to get here, but it was a rare moment where I took in what was happening and felt genuinely proud. Experiences like these really do make all the hard work seem worthwhile, and as I said on Instagram, there’s not a chance that the Pippa from over a decade ago would have imagined things the way they are now. And I mean that in the best-possible way.

I was also completely thrillified, if you will, with the cast who were performing. I actually saw Nikki Bentley completely by chance as standby Elphaba during the UK tour in Leeds last year, and to know that she’s now a leading lady on the West End felt incredibly cool. The same could be said for Helen Woolf who made an absolutely iconic Glinda and was the standout performer that evening for me, as well as Kim Ismay, the Madame Morrible who I also fondly remembered from last year’s tour: you can find my review of that past performance here. The entire West End cast were superb, and the entire production flew by. Both Kate and I found it quite baffling to see the show on the huge-scale it was made for after seeing it repeatedly on tour in smaller, more-conservative venues over the years. Although I found the lighting and sound effects to be slightly more full-on and challenging in the West End, it was absolutely worth it: the creative team certainly warrant credit for such a magical production. It really was all grand, and it really was all green. I’m not even sorry.

green balloon drop with wicked stage and confetti visible
Image Credits: Kate Stanforth

Now, we’d heard rumblings about what was going to happen at the end of the show, and by the time the short speeches for Wicked’s 13th birthday were made following the bows, we had cameras poised and ready to capture the balloon drop as it happened. Hundreds and hundreds of green balloons and glitter came floating down towards the audience from above, as streamers went off all around us and a huge congratulations banner appeared on stage. It was truly such a happy and magical moment: everybody in that theatre was celebrating a musical that has touched the lives of so many, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

As the theatre cleared out and we hung back to let the crowds disappear and for our access assistance to return, it was only right for Kate and I to scavenge some balloons for ourselves like the children we are, and have a mini photoshoot down by the stage. Little did we realise at the time that the more we hung back from attending the after-party, the more celebrities we would miss… but hey. As much as I would’ve loved to have met Wayne Sleep and the other guests of honour, I do have a soft spot for being one of the first or last audience members in the theatre… it just always feels so magical. In fact, we both probably could have stayed there much longer had they not-so-subtly shut the lights off in an attempt to get us to, y’know, actually move. Fortunately, thanks to our amazing access hosts, our chariots (or power-chairs) were waiting for us outside, and you *bet* we donned them with fairy lights before heading onward towards the party. Kate is a mobility-aids genius, I swear.

Neither of us had any idea what to expect from the after-party, but heading into the Park Plaza Hotel just around the corner, it’s safe to say we weren’t disappointed. Congratulations balloons welcomed us, as we handed in our exclusive party passes and headed down in the lift towards the event. After dropping off our coats, along with the balloons we’d smuggled out of the theatre like the mature adults we are, we posed for a photo against the official backdrop and then headed into the busy function room to see what we would find.

pippa sat on floor posing in front of LED wicked green sign

One of my skills in life seems to be spotting novelty alcoholic beverages from a distance, and so it’s unsurprising that our first stop was for the Wicked-themed complimentary cocktails. With green and pink options of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic variations, they were delicious… and very much of the dangerous variety that don’t taste alcoholic in the slightest. Always a risky move when operating an electric wheelchair in a crowded room of stagey elites, but the challenge was wholeheartedly embraced.

As we made our way around the venue, various canapés were also on offer, but naturally our allergic-to-life selves steered clear of these- although not through lack of trying on the parts of the friendly serving staff. Instead, we next headed to the themed magic mirror photo booth to capture some snaps using the Wicked-themed props, taking away a genuinely adorable keepsake from the evening. There were also other photo opportunities scattered around the room, including a gloriously green photo wall where the loveliest girls offered to snap some pictures for us that turned out to be my favourites of the evening… despite the very slight and not-at-all noticeable height difference between Kate and I.

kate and pippa stood in front of official wicked photo backdropWe’d both had long days, and as happy as we were to sit and chat and take in the atmosphere, we headed home just after midnight to the promise of sleeping tablets and pyjamas. I have no recollection of what was in those cocktails, but they somehow managed to keep me wired and full of bizarre dreams whilst simultaneously knocking Kate completely out within the hour. Regardless, we started the next morning feeling shattered and worse for wear, but the motive of a gorgeous Hilton buffet breakfast was definitely the driving force that got us up and out of bed.

After a leisurely morning getting ready, packing up and checking out, then having a coffee and catch-up with our lovely and equally as stagey friend Shona, it was time for me to return to the station and back up North. It was a fleeting visit to London, but one I’ll treasure forever. Who could ever forget the time their pretty-much dream blogging collaboration came true?

So of course, there are some heartfelt thank yous to give here. To the wonderful Official London Theatre team, thank you for gifting us these tickets and inviting us to the after-party, and for making us feel like stagey VIPs. To Kate, thank you for being the best stagey companion and the Instagram Wife I didn’t know I needed, and to Shona for the equally as lovely and cathartic catch-up the next day.

And most of all, thank you to Wicked UK for being such a constant in my life. So much has changed between my first visit and my most-recent, twelve years later, but one thing that’s remained the same is the influence that this magical musical, and the theatre industry, has had on my life over the last decade. And for that, I’ll never not be grateful.

[GIFTED] Thank you so much to the Official London Theatre team for gifting us our Wicked tickets and for inviting us to celebrate the show’s 13th Birthday celebrations and official After-Party. Dreams really do come true!

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