Magic Goes Wrong is not going to win any new converts to the world of magic – or, if it does, it will do so inadvertently rather than deliberately. But whether one enjoys magic or not, there’s a decent amount of entertainment in this production, in the guise of a variety show put on as a charity fundraiser. Even the repeat visitors to Mischief Theatre’s productions (of which there are, at the time of writing, two others running in the West End, The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery) should admit, however, that things do get rather repetitive – the German act, Bär (Nancy Zamit) and Spitzmaus (Bryony Corrigan) wouldn’t do anything substantial without the audience assenting by crying out, “Ja, ja!” and a sound effect echo that accompanies the Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis) whenever he says the word ‘mind’ is overdone, such that it is a blessed relief when the said echo ‘fails’ to materialise.
Some of the joy in this sometimes riotous production comes in working out (or trying to work out) whether interjections from the audience are from stooges or plants, or genuine heckles. The challenge for the cast, particularly with the scripted interruptions, is to keep it looking fresh – and in the case of bona fide audience responses, to respond quickly, appropriately and amusingly. And as far as I could tell, the company do both very well. This in itself is a potential issue, for in Magic Goes Wrong, there are things that go right.
One wonders if magic is even all that necessary these days with the technology available to filmmakers – and theatre-makers, for that matter – where possibilities are limited only by imagination (and, to be brutally honest, budget). But as a West End actor pointed out recently during a musical theatre concert, “Theatre actors don’t need CGI!” and so there is still something special (if that’s the right word) about seeing something as simple as miscellaneous sketches and party tricks on stage, with the added bonus in this production of all sorts of weird and wonderful ways in which they all fail.
Is the show ‘Beckettian’? By this I refer to Samuel Beckett’s famed quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Although part of the ‘Goes Wrong’ series, this production is markedly different from the others, such that whether it is a ‘better’ failure than its predecessors is arguably an unfair comparison to even attempt. But the wrongs do get progressively more spectacular as time goes on. There’s something rather old hat, however, about the Bär and Spitzmaus act – it just felt like the kind of duo that would have been in a variety show a couple of generations ago.
If it’s subtlety you’re after – frankly, look elsewhere. The characters’ commitment is beyond the call of duty, mind you. There’s Dave Hearn’s ‘The Blade’, an alpha male stuntman who holds his breath for an impressive timeframe, not quite the Guinness World Record breath hold of 22 minutes and 22 seconds, but still remarkable. Corrigan squeezes into a box, and the show’s host, Henry Shields’ Sophisticato, palpably struggles to hold his nerve as calamity after calamity descends on proceedings.
Somebody kindly asked me in the theatre bar at the interval whether I was enjoying the show. I could only offer a qualified ‘yes’ – the second half is better than the first. For some, Magic Goes Wrong may prove too silly to be all that enjoyable. That said, the rapport established and maintained with the audience is excellent, and contributes much to the show’s success. Business as usual for Mischief Theatre in this ridiculous and assured production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Created with magic legends Penn & Teller, Mischief Theatre conjure up an evening of grand illusion in Magic Goes Wrong. In the next ‘Goes Wrong’ comedy to hit the West End, the original Mischief company play a hapless gang of magicians presenting a charity event.
As the accidents spiral out of control, so does their fundraising target!
The cast includes:
Bryony Corrigan Spitzmaus
Roxy Faridany Eugenia
Dave Hearn The Blade
Henry Lewis Mind Mangler
Henry Shields Sophisticato
Jonathan Sayer Mickey
Nancy Zamit Bear
The cast is completed by Natasha Culley, Lauren Ingram, Laurence Pears, Sydney K Smith and Liv Spencer.
Magic Goes Wrong
Written by Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields & Teller
Directed by Adam Meggido
Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London WCR2 ONH