Stuart Michael, the Psychic Medium sees the titular performer interacting with an audience to create an engaging evening’s entertainment.
A surprisingly down-to-earth figure, Michael starts by defining the different kinds of skills he shall be displaying. The first is psychic, the ability to see into the past, present or future; the second is mediumship, where he connects with “those who have passed” and the third is dream interpretation.
Such a show is peculiarly subjective, with audience members having wildly different experiences depending on the assumptions and beliefs they bring to it, yet Michael brings qualities to the evening that can be enjoyed by believers and sceptics alike.
He has an easy charm and can deliver a joke, reassuring his audience that they will have a good time and can be relaxed in his presence. The experience is a little like being in the hands of a good audience-participation comic, where he selects individual members of the audience and they create a section of the show together.
Like a good comic, he leads and shapes the narrative but gives plenty of space for his subject to influence and change the narrative. While many of the stories involve sick loved-ones, present-day anxieties and even mentions of miscarriage and other trauma, the overall impression is positive. This is partly because the stories Michael creates are ones of hope and support but also because he doesn’t push his subjects, letting them lead him to the things they are comfortable talking about.
The different narratives in the performance are clearly delineated by Michael’s way of moving through the space. Held at Wonderville, a magic and cabaret venue, he moves through the audience, pausing and deliberating the different energies in the different areas. He paces, pauses, gestures to the space around him, building up tension before announcing that someone in that area is thinking of a certain kind of person or situation. When a member of that area picks up this cue, he hones in, creating more specific details and asking questions. These details frequently yield gasps of surprise and recognition in the subject. Michael will prompt a subject by saying that he wants to feel a certain way or perform a certain action, such as rub his stomach, and asks the subject why he might be wanting to feel that. This gives them the space to take up the next part of the narrative, which Michael will then pick up and develop, rephrasing what the subject has told him and adding the next detail.
Most fascinatingly, when a cue doesn’t land, and the audience in an area aren’t “thinking of moving overseas”, Michael doesn’t quickly drop the suggestion. He moves away from the area before coming back as if drawn there, insisting that someone must have a connection to the subject. If someone further away says they have a connection, he will move towards them and question them a little before going back to the original area and insist again. In most cases, this will cause someone in the section to admit they are the person he is thinking of and the joint-storytelling can begin again.
A performance like this is a linguist’s dream, with unique language rules which all participants implicitly follow. While it makes sense for a psychic to not use the word ‘dead’, there’s something really interesting about how the audience members don’t use it either. A dead person is usually “not on this earthly plane” and a person who died young is “before the expected age for passing”. There’s an unusual element of language tip-toeing through subjects. Towards the end of the evening, Michael frequently uses the first-person plural, expressing his thoughts as the thoughts of “us”, quietly bringing audience and performer together.
The most successful part of the show is at the beginning of the second half when the yellow lighting becomes blue and Michael enters in a vintage, blue leather coat. He then asks the audience about their reoccurring dreams, which he interprets. Perhaps it’s the intimate but universal nature of dreams but this part is quicker and funnier than the psychic and medium parts.
Ultimately, all forms of performance involve an audience suspending their disbelief and entering into a game with the performer. A believer will experience far more than a game but even a sceptic can enjoy Stuart Michael as a skilled and enjoyable entertainer.
Reviewed on 26 May 2023 and continues to tour