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Theatre Review: Magic Goes Wrong

30 March 22 words: Ashley Carter
photos: Pamela Raith

Ashley Carter headed down to the Theatre Royal to enjoy Magic Goes Wrong, the farcical touring show from Mischief Theatre and Penn and Teller...

Is it bad to admit that there’s a small part of me that secretly hopes something will go wring during a magic show? Don’t get me wrong, I love magic and am constantly impressed by magicians who can blow my tiny mind with what seems like relative ease. But there’s always that little part of schadenfreude that lives in my brain, quietly hoping for a disaster to occur. Given the incredible success of Magic Goes Wrong, I can only assume that I’m not alone…

The premise of Mischief Theatre’s show, which is currently at Nottingham Theatre Royal after a West End run and lengthy UK tour, is relatively simple. A bumbling magician named Sophisticato, desperate to escape his late father’s shadow, is hosting a charity fundraising event for those in the magic community who have suffered in the pursuit of entertainment. The Disasters in Magic Charity Fundraiser has drawn what appears to be the very worst of the magic community: there’s the Mind Mangler, a would-be mentalist clearly at his wit’s end; The Blade, a punk-rock inspired American daredevil with scant regard for his own safety; Spitzmaus and Bär, Sophisticato’s estranged German sisters who, comparatively at least, seem altogether more competent that their fellow performers and our main character, Sophisticato himself.

Arms are shot off, bears are let loose, entire squadrons of doves are massacred ensuring that, as the body count rises, the total money raised continues to flatline

The joke is clear from the offset – the magicians and their various tricks all stink and the night is bombing. It’s a relatively simple premise, at least on paper, but with stellar performances across the board, some genuinely fantastic writing and the involvement of magic legends Penn and Teller (who co-created the show with Mischief Theatre), the entire show is elevated beyond a simple farce into something quite spectacular. There’s no preface that any of what we’re watching is real – from the same audience plant appearing three times with different facial hair to cast members semi-disguised as theatre crew becoming inadvertently, and often lethally, involved in the hapless performances. But what would, at a more traditional magic show, be an atmosphere of jeopardy is instead one of humour and genuine good will as this ill-fated crew of entertainers bumble on regardless. Arms are shot off, bears are let loose, entire squadrons of doves are massacred ensuring that, as the body count rises, the total money raised continues to flatline.

But the farcical level of failure shared by the performers establishes a context guaranteeing that when genuine tricks do come off – and there are several show-stopping set-pieces – the audience is left doubly-amazed. The result is a show that feels fresh and alive - there are elements of audience participation, but not in the silly Pantomime way we’ve come to expect, that lead to some of the evenings funniest moments. Magic Goes Wrong is a show that certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously – the humour is morbid, slapstick and goofy, and the tricks are sublime in their uselessness. I can’t wait to see it again.

Magic Goes Wrong is at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sunday 3 April. For more information and tickets visit the TRCH website

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