Forget your David Blaines and Copperfields. As the late Tommy Cooper knew in his variety shows of old, there’s big laughs to be had in watching a stage magician flounder and fluster when a much-practiced trick goes spectacularly wrong.
It’s a ripe opportunity for the kings and queens of all things Wrong, Mischief Theatre, the team behind the massive smash hit of The Play that Goes Wrong. Almost like the adult movie industry, just name any play or subject and there’s a strong likelihood there’ll be a ‘Goes Wrong’ version of it from this prolific gang.
And so, to tonight’s fare, co-written with anarchic magic duo Penn and Teller. In terms of a synopsis, it’s right there in the title. There’s magic, and it goes wrong. Very, very wrong.
Under the guise of a fundraiser for ‘Disasters in Magic’, supporting victims of magical malady, our MC Sophisticato (Sam Hill) introduces us to an eclectic mix of acts in honour of his late father, who was tragically crushed to death by two tons of his own props.
Joined by his German half-siblings Spitzmaus (Jocelyn Hill) and Bar (Chloe Tannenbaum), Emo-band reject The Blade (Keifer Moriarty) and Wish.com’s answer to Derren Brown, The Mind Mangler (played tonight by understudy Rory Fairbairn), Sophisticato and the gang attempt to dazzle the audience with cards, clairvoyance, doves, knife throwing, escapology and a live bear amongst other trickery.
The challenge with a show like this is how to create that delicious sense of danger when the audience is looking for trouble from the get-go. In place of scouring the set for hidden wires, trapdoors and other tools of illusion, here it’s the cast kept on their toes, trying to maintain the tension of what could go wrong and how.
It provides plenty of hilarious moments of slapstick as The Blade loses his trousers (as well as several pints of blood and a limb), Sophisticato’s doves tangle with the electrics, the Mind Mangler is subjected to the abuses of a mischievous technical team as they mess with his autocue, sound effects and stage exits, and there’s mortal peril when the bear escapes.
The volume of variety is enough to stop the joke wearing thin and Rory Fairbairn (and those ‘rogues’ in the technical department of which there are too many to name) deserves particular praise deftly traversing the tightrope facing any good panto performer – that of dealing with audience participation, friendly heckling and improvising accordingly.
Very occasionally there are a few snafus that look like genuine technical errors (mainly with video technology) and the gag of using the same audience plant wearing a variety of comedically poor disguises doesn’t quite land, despite the purposely contrived nature of the whole show.
With the audience wrapped up in the joy of watching disaster unfold, it’s also easy to overlook that the illusions and trickery, whilst old school in nature (vanishing cabinets; sleight of hand; levitating assistants and the like) are still done with the skill of seasoned magic acts, even if the outcome is an apparent fail.
But the belly laughs come thick and fast, with Penn and Teller’s rebellious style wonderfully present throughout, and both audience and cast alike are clearly overjoyed to be back enjoying live theatre.
It’s a fantastic, family-friendly night of entertainment where, for once, you’ll be delighted when they fail to conjure any rabbits out of hats.
The show runs till Sunday 1st August before Mischief are back at the Lowry later in the month, with The Play that Goes Wrong and their latest offering, Groan Ups. https://tinyurl.com/vsfak9jv
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 27th July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★