Magic Goes Wrong

Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Teller
The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Sam Hill as Sophisticato Credit: Pamela Raith
Daniel Anthony as Mickey Credit: Pamela Raith
Jocelyn Prah as Spitzmaus and Chloe Tannenbaum as Bar Credit: Pamela Raith

Mischief Theatre seems to be colonising this part of Hampshire, with their show The Play That Goes Wrong recently playing at The King’s Theatre Portsmouth and now this, Magic Goes Wrong currently at Southampton’s Mayflower as part of a national tour. It is perhaps unfair to compare this show with the others in the ‘Goes Wrong’ series as this is a different show in lots of ways. However, the sections that are most successful in Magic… are those that have made the other Mischief shows so successful.

What sets this show apart is that there are tricks that actually work, as part of a litany of those that go terribly wrong, from the various dead doves (a nod to Monty Python?) to the sawing a body in half trick which, without stating the obvious, did not go to plan. The collaboration with the famous magicians Penn & Teller has led to some brilliant moments of illusion and trickery and it is great to see so many young faces gasping with a ‘how do they do that?’ sense of wonder.

There is a circus-like style to this performance with various acts bringing their ‘magical’ skills to the stage. For me, just like any kind of variety show, there are some acts that work and work well and others that aren’t quite so successful. The measure here, of course, is not the quality of the magic, rather the comic value of each act.

The funniest moments belong to Ricky Oakley as The Mind Mangler who is the mind reader with various ‘gifts’ that never seem to work but always create hilarity amongst the audience. Fairbairn is terrific at creating the arrogant character who really believes that he is better than he actually is. The ongoing joke is that ‘the crew’ working on the show are not fans of the Mind Mangler and this leads to lots of repeated jokes that, in the end, the audience are quite happy to take on themselves.

This show does have a pantomimic feel to it, with lots of breaking of the fourth wall and encouraging shout-outs from the audience. Some of the stand-out moments arrived when there were conversations between audience and characters, particularly Oakley’s Mind Mangler as well as Sam Hill’s Sophisticato who is the MC for the evening. Hill manages to create the struggling magician’s son with a level of misfortune that draws empathy from the audience, even if he is a walking disaster with a wand!

As with many of the other Mischief shows, the physical comedy is central to the success and universality of the performance and this is portrayed with extravagant commitment from Kiefer Moriarty as the daredevil danger character, The Blade. The Blade’s terrible luck and inability to avoid injury adds to the black comedy and, although we feel bad laughing at his misfortune, we also enjoy seeing where he might fail next! Some of the self-inflicted pain is perhaps not suitable for every age, though the younger members of this Southampton audience seemed to revel in these parts.

So, although this is not laugh-a-minute in the same way that some of Mischief’s shows are, it does have some high points as well as the added benefit of some actual ‘magic’ thrown in for good measure. For every character or ‘act’ that doesn’t quite work, there is enough here to offer a great night out and one that can be enjoyed throughout the country until May 2022.

Reviewer: John Johnson

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