Go on….admit it. One reason we still love magic shows is while we are intrigued by how the illusionists fool us, we also secretly hope it will all go horribly wrong.
So, it is really smart of Mischief to create another one of their ‘goes wrong’ series around a camp, OTT group of hopeless performers, and it works much better than their mega successful am dram version as that world is just too a bit too serious to really parody.
The premise is that the inaccurately named Sophisticato – played just on the right edge of hysteria by Sam Hill – has put together a tacky fundraiser for magicians killed or injured in the line of conjuring duties, including his father crushed by his stage props. But as with all Mischief productions anything that can go wrong does as the body count steadily rises.
Sadly, the big names of magic were strangely unavailable – although Derren Brown makes an amusing cameo – so the increasingly desperate Sophisticato is left with the worst psychic of all time, hapless German duo Spirtzmaus and Bar, plus a poor man’s David Copperfield, who all display varying degrees of ineptitude driven by a total lack of self-awareness.
What is really interesting about this show is Mischief has worked with maverick magicians Penn and Teller to play with the genre, so they tease the audience with some trade secrets, including an unfortunate bloody incident with a buzz saw. But if you pay attention, they have left in some really tricky illusions that actually work in the midst of all the mayhem
That’s a pretty meta concept for what at first glance just appears to be a standard fast-moving farce that’s a touch on the long side. You have to admire the skills of the cast who as well as dealing with Mischief’s trademark physicality have to also master magic tricks that can take years to perfect.
David Nellist is wonderfully droll as the Mind Mangler who says he can see all but knows nothing battling his own demons and the tech crew who mock his ‘gifts’ at every turn. Nellist is good on his feet improvising with the audience desperately looking for any tenuous connection to his ‘predictions’ in exactly the same way most psychics do.
Equally good was sad eyed Kiefer Moriarty as American performer The Blade, who is exactly the sort of ‘edgy’ illusionist many in magic circles are suspicious of, and so it proves as his injuries mount.
Jocelyn Prah as one of half of the Berlin duo gets plenty of laughs cavorting round the stage parodying the daft dances magicians often use to distract you, and Valerie Cutko is also great fun as a haughty Debbie McGee type magician’s assistant.
Sometimes farces can be a triumph of technique over laughs but tonight thanks to a hard-working cast and some clever illusions that go wrong and right the audience were most certainly in on the gag.
Magic Goes Wrong is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 4th September. To book 0113 2430808 or visit https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/magic-goes-wrong/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 31st August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
Photographs: Pamela Raith