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Magic Goes Wrong- Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Reviewer: Peter Benson

Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, with Penn and Teller

Director: Adam Megiddo

This show is bought to you by Mischief Theatre, Penn and Teller and J. J. Abrams, the London co-producer: what can possibly go wrong? Hopefully, everything as that is Mischief Theatre’s stock in trade. They are currently one of the most successful theatre companies in the UK and Magic Goes Wrong demonstrates exactly why that is. The story is simple: to honour his newly deceased father, inept magician Sophisticato holds a fundraising magic show to benefit magicians who have been injured in the pursuit of their craft.

Sophisticato, wonderfully played by Sam Hill, introduces a ragbag of failing magicians. As each successive act is increasingly disastrous, Hill’s character starts to crumble before our eyes becoming ever more desperate as he reveals the story of his dysfunctional family and the toxic relationship with his father.

The magicians may be amateurish and wanting but the setting of this show has the polish and sophistication of a Las Vegas cabaret, complete with high tech flying video screen which is used to great humorous effect. This is an expensive-looking set for a touring production.

The show lampoons many genres of the world of magic and illusion. From the old travelling carnival era there is the human cannonball and catching the bullet trick through to the sophisticated big illusions of today’s Las Vegas.

Rory Fairbairn as Mind Mangler demonstrates the worst of mindreading spiritualists, a particular target of Penn and Teller who are debunkers of such charlatans. Fairbairn’s performance has an improvised feel to it, though it is undoubtedly tightly scripted, as he does battle with a hostile audience and an even more hostile stage technician

Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum, who have great chemistry together, represent the European genre of contemporary physical illusionists. As Spitzmaus and Bar, their barely contained contempt for one another escalates as they battle for creative control while their act unfolds.

As soon as we lay eyes on the massive circular blade that will saw the lady in half we are in no doubt what will eventually happen. Just as the fate of the dozens of doves is also in no doubt. But it is Mischief Theatre’s version of Houdini’s water tank escape that is the high point of the show creating great tension. This is darker humour than we have seen from this company before.

This is a well-mined genre, following the likes of Tommy Copper and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone but, as you would expect, Mischief Theatre, aided and abetted by Penn and Teller, confront it in an engaging and spectacular way. The strength of this show is that there are two opposing forces at work here. There is Mischief’s desire to create chaos out of spectacular failure and there is Penn and Teller’s masterful ability to ultimately dazzle the audience with a sensational payoff. It is this contradictory mix that gives this production a fresh take on Mischief’s popular bag of tricks.

This is very much a cabaret magic show and you need to have some affinity with the world of illusion to fully enjoy it but if you do then the show will be a real treat with some genuine thrills and mystifying illusions all presented by a strong cast.

Runs Until 26 February 2022 and on tour

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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