Writer: Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Teller
Director: Adam Meggido
Mischief Theatre rarely misses a trick with the all-conquering success of its ‘Goes Wrong’ series.Cue excitement and anticipation among fans when the folk behind hit shows The Play that Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery trained its spotlight on the world of magic in 2019.
The latest instalment takes us to a charity bash in memory of all the magicians who’ve died in the line of duty in the past year, hosted by Sam Hill’s hapless Sophisticato, in tribute to his late magician father. As the cash total heads in the wrong direction, we are introduced to a string of similarly hopeless acts, beginning with Rory Fairbairn’s Mind Mangler – an insecure and bullying mind reader at war with both his unhelpful audience and a stage management team intent on sabotaging his already questionable powers.
Add to this a German female double-act, Bar and Spitzumas (Chloe Tannenbaum and Jocelyn Prah), and dangerous knife artiste, The Blade (Keifer Moriarty), whose life-threatening injuries mount with each successive failure. Amid the chaos, we are plunged into the tragic backstories of the performers, then treated to a predictably catastrophic lady (Valerie Cutko) sawn in half trick and a finale from ancient Egypt which, incredibly, seems to almost work.
There is plenty of slapstick, a caged bear, a running health and safety gag and a “live” video link from Derren Brown, lost on the streets of Liverpool. There is a lot to like and plenty to laugh at, and the input of famously anarchic real-life magicians Penn and Teller likely makes this a treat for fans of “genuine” magic. But despite the boundless enthusiasm and energy of the cast, some of the set-pieces feel overlong and the finales a little underwhelming.
Comedy routines around the gay relationship between one performer and his audience plant and the failed sense of humour of the Teutonic tumblers feel dated – though perhaps this is in tribute to the setting: more end of the pier than glitzy MGM Grand. The show ends on sentimental note and the cast’s genuine emotion at being able to perform again after the enforced pandemic shutdown is touching and generates a small standing ovation.
Magic Goes Wrong delivers all the mayhem and madness you would expect from Mischief Theatre without ever dazzling or pulling any rabbits from hats.
Runs until 11 September 2021 and continues on its UK Tour