Could it be Magic ?

Reviewer's rating

Is it a magic show? Is it a comedy show? It’s both, actually.

Performer Paul Aitchinson (Mixed Doubles, BBC Radio 4) and director Owen Luis (Olivier Award Nominee) have come up with a rather brilliant show concept: we are invited to witness the very finals of competition between magicians, ailing from the four corners of the world, who will battle it out with cards and mind-reading tricks (grand prize: a 100 Costa Coffee points).

The MC is Reggie Kettle: founder, president, and sometimes janitor of the Magic Ring Magical Society. He’s won the title 9 years in a row, “and that’s not suspicious at all” he takes care of informing the audience.

He introduces the contestants. First is Zanthos Thorne: the “Brain Fondler of Wisconsin”, with a bad-boy-living-in-mother’s-basement vibe and a Jackass-like fascination for pointy objects.

Second, we meet the rather fabulous Klause Fantastiche, the best magician in Germany (in his price range) who blindfolds himself and invites public members to stroke his sausages (get your mind out of te gütter!); he is always able to tell which one they choose.

Lastly, we encounter married couple Colin and Carol… or rather just a distraught Colin (Carol hasn’t shown up… they are going through a rough patch). Colin stumbles, fumbles, and weeps through his two-persons act all by himself, until he just breaks and demands to have a stand-in for his wife. The audience-interaction sequence that follows is one of the funniest in the show.

The audience gets to vote for the winner by applause. For us it is Klause. Of course, Reggie already knew that would happen… (this magical payoff is rather fantastic).

There’s a pleasant whiff of panto about the whole affair. The characters are wonderfully well delineated and brilliantly inhabited (I’m not embarrassed to say: when the first couple personas came on stage it actually took me a second to realize Mr. Aitchinson was playing them!)

Where the night falls flat at times is in the difficult balance required by its core concept: navigating that line between stand-up/comedy routine and magic show. A couple of gags are reused a few too many times. There are several moments when a character cracks a corny dad-joke only to follow it with a self-aware shout of: “comedy!”, and each time you can’t help but wonder if those moments would have been better served by an actual, well-crafted joke. By the same token, some of the magic tricks can feel repetitive across the different characters; though extremely impressive, there are only so many ways a mind-reading trick can be rehashed and repackaged… we already know the outcome: he knew it all before.

There is, however, great attention to detail and a couple of long setups with extremely delayed payoffs that land beautifully and feel fresh (can’t spoil them, but all questions are answered at the end of the show!).