Impossible – Noël Coward Theatre, London
Directors: Anthony Owen (creative director), Lloyd Wood (stage director)
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Recent West End forays into the world of magic and illusion have tended towards the big bombast, such as Derren Brown constructing entire evenings around his feats of mentalism. Impossible sees a return to more traditional conjuring, with one or two slick modern twists – and in so doing introduces a number of new faces to the West End.
Starting with the arresting image of a young boy becoming mesmerised by a magic act on television and discovering huge books full of magic, the segue into an introduction of the performers suddenly veers off into a low-budget Vegas-like introduction sequence for the evening’s performers. That it’s a directorial misstep is an understatement, playing out as it does to near silence from the audience, unwilling to applaud performers who have not earned their praise.
But as the show gets going, that the acts begin to prove their worthiness. Jonathan Goodwin adds an extra frisson to his recreation of one of his hero Houdini’s most well-known escapology tricks – getting out of a straitjacket while suspended upside down – by setting himself on fire; while his later escapades do not impress quite as much, his patter and easy-going engagement with the audience compensate immensely.
Less successful at engaging with the audience are Jamie Allan, whose digitally inspired exploits come across more as well choreographed performance pieces rather than magic _per se_, and Luis De Matos, whose true skill lies with producing large prop-based set pieces accompanied by beautiful women willing to be put into boxes, broken up, pierced with swords and reassembled. De Matos’s close up magic – despite being broadcast on a number of flat screen TVs – also tends to fall flatter than he clearly expects it to, although he wins back affection form the audience with a mass participation trick in the second act which, while being far from sophisticated is a whole lot of fun.
At the opposite end to a professional career from De Matos, youngster Ben Hart presents some classic routines, but his patter suggests that he has yet to find a take on the craft that will give him the distinctiveness he will need. There is no such problem for Ali Cook, whose routines involve the same mix of large scale prop work and close-up magic as De Matos’, but delivered with the sort of charisma that wins over the West End crowd far more easily.
Completing the evening is mentalist Chris Cox, the bespectacled geek who describes himself as “a mind-reader who can’t read minds – just like other mind-readers, but more honest”. Cox’s self-deprecating humour and ease with his audience lends a much-needed air of levity to an evening which often misjudges how much portentous music and lights a West End magic show can take.
But the biggest mistake this show makes is to have so many magicians in one evening that we end up seeing repetition of the same illusion in slightly different form. An evening with Cook, Cox and Goodwin alone would be less repetitive and much more fun. But as it is, when Cox says how excited he is to be performing on a West End stage, you sense that he means it – and for all these acts, their finding a summer home together here is as exciting for them as it as for the audience.
Photo: Helen Maybanks