Impossible

Creative Director Anthony Owen
Jamie Hendry Productions
Noël Coward Theatre

Luis de Matos Credit: Helen Maybanks
Jamie Allan Credit: Helen Maybanks
Jonathan Goodwin Credit: Helen Maybanks
Ali Cook Credit: Helen Maybanks

Impossible, the title for this portmanteau magic show, is very apt.

From traditional tricks of slicing and re-joining rope, playing card sleight of hand and cutting women in two to making a car disappear and a helicopter suddenly materialise, “Impossible!” is the immediate reaction—and yet you’ve seen it—“before your very eyes!”

Video screens make sure that everyone in the house can see each detail in close-up, audience members are on the stage to have their minds read, check equipment, even try out a fakir’s bed of nails, Ben Hart makes his way into an upstairs aisle to get the gallery audience involved as helpers and Luis de Matos gets the whole audience simultaneously to perform one trick, each for themselves.

This is not a straight variety show with each magician doing their own separate discrete spot; each one comes back with new tricks through the show, which is given a kind of framing. Since all these magicians speak of becoming fascinated with magic when small children, it is appropriate that it takes the form of a little boy watching a magic show on an ancient television when his idolised magicians appear live before him to show him tricks and entertain us.

The lad I saw was splendid, but a couple of the magicians, although the patter in their acts is relaxed and fluent, seemed strangely awkward in their anecdotal introductions, talking of their first magic experience and of family traditions. They are, though, more confident when adding interest and historical perspective in references to great predecessors, whose acts they emulate in modern form.

Images of those former greats form part of the design concept too, but there is nothing old fashioned about it for its flashing lights and laser beams, its moving panels and projections are a barrage of state-of-the-art technology. Together, Andrew D Edwards's design and Tim Lutkin’s lighting make a grand-scale but comparatively simple concept glamorously effective.

There are modern-day equivalents of classic acts like cutting a woman in half, Houdini straightjacket, disappearances and translocations to cunning card tricks, all gaining interest because they are programmed for variety not repetition. There is death-defying and staggeringly exact marksmanship from Jonathan Goodwin (even firing a crossbow blindfold at where he had heard a bell).

Chris Cox adds a zany personality to his mind reading act, Ali Cook recreates a Houdini underwater escape and the large-scale illusions are impressive but it is the visible display of dexterity, skill and timing that most engaged me. Old fashioned sleight of hand with cards or appearing and disappearing balls (which Ben Hart presents like an old Biograph movie) are still amazing and Jamie Allan gives it a very contemporary form, plucking objects from a computer screen, making things move from one screen to another, or appearing to grasp a laser beam and control its movement.

There is a tendency to overload with loud music and effects to whip up an artificial excitement—most magic works best in an atmosphere of calm concentration and dangerous acts create their own frisson—but it is all part of the show’s theatricality.

Strange that a show presented with such precision and technological finesse is let down by the poor delivery and distorted amplification of some of its voice-over elements and, though it has some humorous elements, it could do with more of them.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton