Dramaturgy Gretl Satorius & Lloyd Wood
James Hendry & Gavin Kalin Productions
Noel Coward Theatre

Magical Bones, Jonathan Goodwin, Sabine van Diemen, Richard Jones, Josephine Lee, Ben Hart and Chris Cox Credit: Helen Maybanks
Josephine Lee Credit: Helen Maybanks
Ben Hart Credit: Helen Maybanks
Magical Bones Credit: Helen Maybanks
Jonathan Goodwin Credit: Helen Maybanks

This is a new edition of the magic show with the same title that was at this theatre last summer. There is a slightly different format and a different line up, though some acts and some tricks and illusions are repeated.

There are no large-scale illusions like the disappearing car and suddenly discovered full-size helicopter that were seen last year but it is a varied mixture of traditional illusions like sawing a person in half (Josephine Lee: a woman sawing a man this time) and card tricks of amazing dexterity from breakdancing Magical Bones (who adds magic to the moves), multi-talented Ben Hart and guest star Lance Corporal Richard Jones (winner of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent), for whom the Life Guards have arranged duties so that he can make these appearances.

The acts are interspersed with each other instead of playing isolated solo segments. They introduce their fellows and sometimes work together. There’s an occasional voice over introduction in a grotesquely amplified American voice, which is irritating in a show that displays mainly home grown talent. Despite the London-centred style of Andrew D Edwards’ design this gives the whole presentation an American brashness at odds with the relaxed style of most of the performers.

There is mind reader Chris Cox, reprising his fashion store act as well as displaying an amazing ability to know things about members of the audience, conjurer Sabine van Diemen who flaunts herself as eye-candy for males in the audience. There’s a water escape from Miss Lee but the greatest danger defiance comes from crossbow-wielding Jonathan Goodwin, not only a hair’s-breadth accurate marksman but a 21st century petrol-soaked, flaming Houdini whose first act gets a lady from the audience to lie on his bed of nails then performs the real pain-defying stunt of lying on just one nail while she slams a sledgehammer into a breeze block laid over his body.

With two critic colleagues and an arts page editor among the audience participants it seems certain that there was no connivance in whom was selected, so making the transfer of one randomly chosen volunteer from a cage on one side of the stage to another opposite in a flash of electric lightning with no prior knowledge of what was going to happen seems even more amazing when Ben Hart makes it happen. Hart seems to turn his hand to all kinds of dexterity and illusion: a complex routine of appearing and disappearing billiard balls is one of his items here, and he develops a good rapport with the audience. So too does escapologist Goodwin but perhaps there is just a little too much talking and not enough action. Lloyd Wood ’s direction doesn’t do much to generate reaction and a laser display makes the climax a bit of a let down.

There are good acts here, worth seeing (in close-up on video screens as well as on stage, giving maximum exposure). They leave you full of wonder at how they did that – or in one case made every member of the audience do it! But for a show set up on such a large scale it is low on excitement. Perhaps we’ve become blasé, too used to highly skilled magical talent to expect that gasp of amazement from a whole audience together that should be there? That’s the challenge: to top what you did last time and, if you don’t have a new trick that is even more amazing, the show itself should be providing that new energy.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton