When I was a kid – all those years ago – I used to see magicians on variety shows like Sunday Night at the London Palladium all the time and they were pretty much all the same. There would be David Nixon, Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels etc wearing their tuxedos and mixing magic with some pretty bland humour and dad jokes. Time moves on though, and magicians have moved with it. David Copperfield, Penn and Teller et al have all changed the face of magic as an entertainment. But now it’s time for them to move on as a new breed of magical entertainer takes centre stage. Welcome to the brotherhood of magicians, Benedict Barber currently causing audiences to gasp in disbelief at The Vaults, Waterloo with his one man show Master of the Macabre.
Right from the off, it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to be a conventional magic show as I remember them. When we arrived, we were asked to write a name on a piece of paper and put it in a box on the stage – guarded over by a very affable young chap who made sure we didn’t run off with the pen. Once everyone was seated and the show began, we got to meet Benedict as he took us through his performance. Benedict talked to us – illustrating his words with magical tricks – telling us his story from his first gentle steps in the world of magic at the age of five, with his brother Chris, through to the present day. Obviously, I’m not going to go into any detail of the show itself, that would be unfair to Benedict and the audience who really need to experience the evening. I will say, that it was not the evening I thought it would be. From the opening I was on the edge of my seat, never really sure what was going to happen next. Right from the off, there is something odd about Benedict – and I mean this is a good way. He has a really interesting voice which is difficult to describe but, to me, felt as if it belonged in the 1800s. Melodic and gentle, his voice really made you want to listen to him and take in every word he was speaking. Add to this Benedict’s body language – he had this odd habit of rubbing two fingers against his thumb at points – and I spent most of the show convinced I was being slowly hypnotised.
The show itself was well put together by Director Tony Middleton with Magic Consultant Chris Dugdale but it is the strength and stage presence of Benedict who captures the audience from the moment he, rather spectacularly, appears and never lets them go until the conclusion. As an audience member I would really recommend sitting as close to the front as possible. This not only makes it so much easier to get immersed into Benedict’s world but also helps you really understand how good a magician he is. Having watched all of the series Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, I like to pride myself that I can work out most tricks that magicians do but, I can honestly say, there is one in the second act involving a carrier bag and a sealed box that still has me completely flummoxed.
Overall, Master of the Macabre wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was odd in many respects and, if I am honest I think could do with a little bit of tweaking to make it perfect, but I have to say that when I left the theatre – and The Vaults was an inspired location – I left with feeling that I had been thoroughly entertained by a very talented young man whose voice still makes me shudder thinking about him this morning. Now that’s magic.
Review by Terry Eastham
Benedict Barber is a magician with a taste for the ghoulish and grisly.
In Master of the Macabre, he will take the audience on a dark autobiographical journey – from his introduction to magic at the age of just five through the trickery he employed at school to alarm his fellow pupils and terrorize his teachers to a shocking experience as a young adult that has shaped his life both on and off the stage.
This enticing theatrical experience will leave you wide-eyed with astonishment and bring you to the edge of your seat with fear. If you’re prepared to have your prejudices challenged, your assumptions questioned, your beliefs shaken and your nerves shredded then this is the show for you.
Master of the Macabre is – quite simply – the most terrifying magic show you will ever see…
Warning – the show is only suitable for ages 15 and up.
Performed by Benedict Barber
Directed by Tony Middleton
Written by Benedict Barber and Matthew Stradling
Additional Magic consultancy by Chris Dugdale
7th October to 1st November 2015