The Theatreguide.London Review
Magic Goes Wrong
Vaudeville Theatre 2020
This comic show starts
strong, sags badly in the middle and recovers somewhat by the end.
Stick it out through the dip and you'll have a satisfying couple of
hours of spoon-fed undemanding entertainment.
Mischief Theatre are
the folks who brought you The Play That Goes Wrong, in which talented
performers pretend to be inept amateurs trying to put on a show and
hitting snags from missed cues to recalcitrant props. Here talented
performers pretend to be inept magicians trying to put on a show and
getting every trick wrong.
And so we have the
cheesy host magician
(Henry Shields) who drops his playing cards and can't get the hidden
pigeons out of his sleeves, the mind reader (Henry Lewis) who guesses
wrong every time, and the daredevil (Dave Hearn) who only manages to
maim himself a new way with every trick.
All three, founding
of Mischief Theatre, are credited with writing this show, along with
the American comedy-magic team Penn & Teller, who specialise in
tricks that seem to go wrong but don't, and at least one sequence
here – the drowning man trick – comes straight from the P&T
We're clearly deep into
Tommy Cooper territory here,
though without Cooper's cheery distancing from his own seeming
ineptitude. The biggest strength of the show is that all three
performers, as directed by Adam Meggido, are fully committed to their
characters and make us believe in these wannabe magicians even as we
laugh at their failures.
The biggest weakness is
that it is
essentially a one-joke show, and the sag in energy I referred to
starts about a half-hour in, as you realise that it is all going to
be just a string of minor variations on the things-going-wrong gag.
The three characters
take centre stage a few times each, but there
are no surprises – you know before it happens that the daredevil is
going to hurt himself, the mind reader is going to fail and the
pigeons are doomed. The same predictability extends to everything
around them – the showgirls will be klutzes, the
planted-in-the-audience stooge obvious, the special effects mistimed.
It is only toward the
end, when a couple of tricks actually go right
and – more importantly – when we begin to appreciate the skill
and talent it takes to look so inept and to carry it through with a
straight face, that the show regains our attention.
Come to laugh at the ineptitude, make it through the dip in the middle, and end up admiring and enjoying the talent it takes to look so bad.
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