magic set

Pictures: Pamela Raith

Magic Goes Wrong

Birmingham Hippodrome


Card tricks, mind reading, doves from thin air, the stock in trade of magicians everywhere . . . are sadly missing in this show.

Well, not exactly missing, more hit and miss, well miss and miss really. The survival rate of doves is between none and zero while the odds on a card trick being right are roughly 52 to one – 54 to one if you include the jokers.

And speaking of jokers there is Keith, the Mind (Mind, mind, mind) Mangler. Now as a mind reader he is . . . well rubbish would be a compliment. He is marginally better at that than he is as a medium raising the dead, or the undead as it turned out.

The real magic of the evening though is the trick of making people laugh over and over again. Great comedy is magic in itself.

But to be fair, amid the laughs and the tricks that go meticulously wrong, there is some great magic as well. A levitation trick, for example where a body under a sheet floats up into the air. We know it must be on invisible wires, surely, but then where did the body go when the sheet is pulled away in mid-air and there is nothing there.

People can hide in secret compartments in supposedly empty boxes but to get from a box one side of the stage to one on the other, or even reappear off stage . . . we know it must be an illusion but that doesn’t make it any the less baffling.

The show is a Disasters in Magic Charity Fundraiser with dodgy illuminated letters and it is amazing just how many witty words and phrases can be created, purely by chance of course, when letters happen to fail or relight, quite randomly as acts start.

And as with all these sort of events there is a tribute to all those in the magic industry who have died in the past year, one who died of myxomatosis, presumably from his rabbits, another attacked at a village fete but strangely most of the victims seemed to be from Press night.

They all seemed to be related to a rather unfortunate incident during a sawing a lady in half illusion, which had the added illusion that she was sawn in half, magic doing just what was said on the tin, or in this case spilled on the floor. But, these things happen, may she rest in pieces.


Sam Hill as Sophisticato the compère of the unfolding magical disasters

The compere for the evening is Sophisticato, a magician with the great skill of not being embarrassed at his amazing lack of ability in the magical arts, played beautifully by Sam Hill as he attempts to keep the show of magical misfits on track amid attempting the tricks of his late father, which probably never worked then either. Then came the Mind (Mind, mind, mind) Mangler played by Rory Fairbairn who it seems was not on the best of terms with the bloke on the teleprompter and sound effects.

As a mind reader there are pebbles with more ability but when it comes to comedy, improv at that, he is a master. There might be a couple of plants in the audience, Brian/Stephen for example, the volunteer, second time with moustache, third time with beard, but guessing names of people, or their jobs at random, is just that, random and he turned each one onto comedy gold.

With jobs it was a tortuous journey, painfully travelled, to get whatever someone said was their job around to match – in the loosest terms - the card the Mangler had written.

His contacting the dead with a volunteer from the audience, a volunteer looking very similar to Brian, who was in fact Mickey, who was in fact Daniel Anthony, could have gone better if Brian/Stephen/Mickey had actually known anyone or had a relative who had died.

The Mangler would not be deterred though and managed to go beyond the run of the mill common or garden clairvoyants and raised not the dead but the undead and not just the undead but a Hollywood A lister who was so confused by her transportation to a glass globe on the Mangler’s table that she had to use Google to reveal the only film for which she had received an Oscar.

Then we had The Blade, Keifer Moriarty, who claimed to be impervious to pain, and it seems, was somewhat unaware of the actual definition of impervious, as he did have many opportunities but failed to show this trait convincingly as he was stabbed, festooned in rat traps, drowned and shot in tricks which were not entirely successful.

mind mangler

Rory Fairbairn who can taste your thoughts, job, name . . . as the Mind (Mind, mind, mind) Mangler 

There was also an international element to this fundraiser with Bär and Spitzmaus, who manage to highlight German efficiency is not completely universal. Chloe TannenBaum and Jocelyn Prah’s Teutonic alter egos seem have a less than amicable relationships, while Chloe’s Bär seems to have a touch of evil about her, especially as she greefully rams stakes through a box containing the screaming, impervious to pain, Blade.

But even our German duo managed a baffling trick when Bär was shot from a cannon, supposedly. Whether she was we will never know but the result was certainly a how the heck did they do that moment. The names, a quick Googling seem to reveal, mean Bear and Shrew . . . Why? Who knows, but more of bear later.

Finally, we had the (late) Eugenia, patron of the show and magicians generally, who was sawn in half and helped all future magicians to remember that important health and safety advice to never operate the huge circular saw without the safety guard.

Her participation in showing not just how the trick is achieved but the consequences of ignoring this advice was much appreciated.

It was perhaps the goriest live magic trick ever as entrails spilled on the floor beneath the blood splattered walls. The odd thing was though, that people seemed to see the blood and guts but miss the fact that Eugenia, played by Valerie Cutko – who was to appear miraculously sewn back together at the finale – was indeed in two halves with the secret cavity where her body could hide, full of, well, dead body. That was a trick and a half, or two halves as it turned out.

We even had Derren Brown making a guest appearance by video link until he was attacked by the escaped bear from Bär and Spitzmaus’s transformation trick (a work in progress).

Not everything worked, which was the point of the show, I know, but as a show itself, not everything quite hit the mark but there was enough genuine fun, and it all came at such a pace, to forgive that.

Mischief Theatre made its name with The Play That Goes Wrong, which set a high bar and magic makes a game attempt to match it and, to be fair, it does come close with its healthy quota of belly laughs, silliness, invention and wit.

Superstar magicians Penn and Teller helped with the script from Mischief’s Henry Lewis. Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and, as in The Play That Goes Wrong, the going wrong bits need as much if not more rehearsal and timing than the bits that go right.

And even the bits that were meant to go wrong had their moments of magic, the right card impaled on a stabbed hand, for example.

Will Bowen's set is a kaleidoscope of colour, a bit like a cabaret stage while the oval video screen is a masterstroke to show close ups of playing cards, the Mind Mangler's scribbled revelations and general mayhem.

Directed by Adam Meggido Magic will be going wrong to 29-05-22. Meanwhile remember to keep your safety guard on your circular saw and watch out for escaped bears.

Roger Clarke


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