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Review of The Mysterious Gentleman at the Courtyard Theatre

The Mysterious Gentleman (c) James Hall
The Mysterious Gentleman (c) James Hall

The supernatural includes all that cannot be explained by the laws of nature, including things characteristic of or relating to ghosts, gods, or other types of spirits and other non-material beings, or to things beyond nature. Of course, most supernatural things can be explained away when looked at in the cold light of day but can everything? Are some things truly supernatural? Well, maybe you will be able to decide for yourself after seeing The Mysterious Gentleman at The Courtyard Theatre.

The American Davenport brothers have been wowing audiences with their spiritualist demonstrations. This is Victorian England and the populace is going loopy over the supernatural. Mediums are popping up all over the place and seances are the latest after dinner entertainment. The time is right for fakes and charlatans to come in and make money out of people’s wish to know the answer to what happens when you die? J N Maskelyne (Andrew Thorn) is convinced that the Davenport brothers are fraudsters of the first order and, together with his friend and fellow magician George Alfred Cook (Dave Short) set out to replicate the Davenport’s act using simple stage magic. This they succeed in doing and thus start a lifetime career as stage magicians entertaining the public and debunking fake spiritualists as they go. And yet, behind Maskelyne’s disbelief in the afterlife and anyone’s ability to communicate with it, there is a family story that goes back generations and whose influence may be affecting JN now and his son Nevil (Josh Harper) in the future.

Well, what a fascinating story. The Mysterious Gentleman is. J N Maskelyne was a real-life person who did all the things spoken off in the play – including getting the phrase to ‘spend a penny’ into the English language. He is an amazing character in his own right and, when the mysterious ‘extra’ bit of his family evening is added by writer Jarek Adams, then the stage is set for an amazing tale.

Add to this some very impressive stage magic, performed with style and aplomb by Andrew and Dave. I was sat in the front row and will willingly admit that I have no idea how at least three of the tricks were performed – and I’m a chap that avidly watched all the episodes of “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed” on TV. So, we have ‘genuine’ magic and a great story. We also have a lovely relationship between the three actors who, particularly when JN and George are starting out, really treat the audience as a part of their inner circle. As they discuss their plans and we follow them through the highs and lows of their trip from simple entertainers to headliners in London, you can’t help but pick a side – either the flamboyant JN or the more cautious George.

All in all, The Mysterious Gentleman is a really entertaining mixture of great storytelling, acting and magic all brought together in a very gentle and, at times a very understated English feeling way by Director Kasia Rozycki. I think if I have one criticism it was that, by the end, I didn’t really know how J N Maskelyne really felt about anything – spiritualism, the family ‘story, etc – which left me a little frustrated. But, ultimately, this was a magical evening of wonder, suspense and good old-fashioned theatrical fun that has got me heading off to YouTube to try and figure how he did it.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The Mysterious Gentleman is a play incorporating stage magic that explores the eternal question of what lies beyond death, told through the life story of mercurial magician JN Maskelyne.

The play brings back to the stage this man of contradictions, and 100 years after his death his story is story is still mesmerising. Known as the father of modern magic in the Victorian era, he built his career by challenging fraudulent spiritualists and charlatans, as well as creating magical illusions that amazed Victorian audiences and still astonish people today.

This is a co-production between writer Jarek Adams of Partners in Mischief Productions & director Kasia Różycki of Off The Cliff Theatre

The Mysterious Gentleman
Playwright Jarek Adams
Director Kasia Rozycki

Cast:
Andrew Thorn as John Nevil Maskelyne
Dave Short as George Cooke
Josh Harper as Nevil Maskelyne

Producers Partners in Mischief Productions & Off The Cliff Theatre
Performance Dates October 31st 2017 – November 18th 2017
Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm
Running Time 110 mins (not including interval)
Venue The Courtyard Theatre, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, N1 6EU
http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/

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