Magic seems to be going through a bit of a revival at the moment. Following hot on the heels of recent hit Impossible, we now have The Illusionists, Broadway's best-selling magic show. And it's not hard to see why; with drama, comedy, suspense and a steady stream of mind-boggling tricks, the show really does have something for everyone.
Like Impossible, The Illusionists features seven performers, each with a particular specialist skill. There's the Escapologist, the Deductionist, the Manipulator, the Trickster, the Weapon Master and the Inventor, and they're joined by special guest Jamie Raven from Britain's Got Talent, a.k.a. The Magician. Accompanied by a live band, who ramp up the tension with increasingly dramatic music, assorted pyrotechnics and, of course, a team of glamorous assistants, the seven take it in turns to wow us with their skill, daring and charm.
The show takes us from one extreme to the other - Andrew Basso ends the first act by releasing himself from a locked tank, in the world’s first full view Houdini Water Torture Cell, and later Ben Blaque shoots an apple off his own head with a crossbow (yes, you read that right). If you’re of a nervous disposition like me, you might not love these bits, but prepare to join in the cheering afterwards, if only out of relief that everybody’s still in one piece.
At the other end of the scale are the charming and, thankfully, harmless Jamie Raven, who impresses by levitating a small child, before apparently getting a five pound note inside a lemon, and David Williamson, the king of banter, who managed to reduce one little boy to helpless (but adorable) giggles, just by looking at him.
From the mysterious Den Den, who can produce delicate paper swans out of thin air and turn blank cards into photographs in the blink of an eye, we move on to the downright bizarre, as Kevin James wrestles with a severed hand, then cuts a man in half with a chainsaw before stapling him back together.
Finally, there’s mind-reader Colin Cloud, who also acts as compere for the evening. With a background in forensic science, he knows exactly how to read people - but also how to put ideas into our heads. It’s a bit like watching a real life version of Sherlock (only without Benedict Cumberbatch, sadly), and just as incredible.
The Illusionists is traditional magic with a modern twist, and although many of the tricks are familiar - for most of them, you can predict what’s going to happen before it does - that doesn’t make them any less impressive. And like most magic shows, there’s plenty of audience participation… so if you’d rather not be hauled up on stage, you might be more comfortable sitting in the circle.
If you’re looking for an entertaining night out, you could do a lot worse than The Illusionists. It’s family-friendly fun with an added element of danger (Andrew Basso’s act is preceded by an explanation of how he nearly died performing it in Sydney), and the illusions will have you scratching your head all the way home, wondering ‘how did they do that?’ and resolving to watch more closely next time (don’t bother, it won’t help).
The show’s full title is The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible, and I certainly feel that we have. And even though I’m a cynic, who’ll keep looking for a rational explanation for it all, a little piece of me wants to believe it really is magic… because, let’s face it, that would be a lot more exciting.
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