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 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 members 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 repertoire.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Magic Goes Wrong  - Vaudeville Theatre 2020

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