Writer: Doug Segal &James Hamilton
Director: Mark Smith
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
In a filmed introduction an avuncular Doug Segal (in Stephen Fry mode) defines a Mentalist as someone possessing extraordinary mental powers exercised through artifice and trickery. In other words the whole thing is just cheating and lying. There is no doubt that Segal is a master of the art. Upon entry he distributes shreds from a magazine and correctly identifies the word that an audience member selects from a fragment.
Segal explains that the object of his new show is not to perform himself but to use a series of tests and identify someone with latent psychic abilities. It is a risky approach requiring explanations and instructions that go on so long they almost undermine the impact when the trick is actually performed. Segal tackles this limitation with comedy and subtle examples of mind reading. The latter succeeds more than the former. Segal is capable of the apparently impossible trick of casually identifying someone who has a scarred knee. But he isn’t a comedian and while his light approach to the subject is welcome some of the comic routines (especially interaction with a filmed insert) aren’t that funny and go on too long. A routine in which the audience becomes collateral damage in an attack from Segal’s fictional nemesis might be better suited for a younger age group or one that has had a few drinks.
Director Mark Smith allows his star to indulge his levity rather than build up the suspense involved in the show. The last test that the volunteer undertakes is gloriously OTT and it might have had greater impact if the subject matter been revealed at an earlier stage in the show so we could spend time wondering how the heck they were going to make it possible.
Unusually, one hopes, a couple of the tricks at The Lowry do not work. A demonstration of telepathy, with one person drawing an image transmitted by another, is simply unsuccessful. Possibly because instructions were not clear at the outset none of the six people chosen to receive a word mentally implanted from a filmed insert actually pick the right word.
Of course Segal gets it right more often than wrong. There is a stunning conclusion in which a scroll, sealed before the show started, is opened to reveal exact duplicates to answers put forward by the volunteer as the show progressed. It is admirable to see a performer make an effort to proceed outside the comfort zone but at times it seems that Segal’s light approach to his material emphasises his shortcomings as a comedian and fails to make the most of his skill as a mentalist.