Review: Magic Show Fails To Pull New Tricks Out Of The Hat

Impossible, Noel Coward Theatre ★★★☆☆

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 96 months ago

Last Updated 15 July 2016

Review: Magic Show Fails To Pull New Tricks Out Of The Hat Impossible, Noel Coward Theatre 3
Impossible guest stars Lance Corporal Richard Jones.
Impossible guest stars Lance Corporal Richard Jones.

When did magic become a team sport? Everywhere you look, conjurers are rarely seen on their lonesome. Yea verily, magic is nowadays all about the #squadgoals.

Take for instance, the so-so multi-magician caper Now You See Me which sees its sequel hit the cinemas this month. Then there’s The Illusionists who had a stay at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2015 and the upcoming Champions Of Magic at Logan Hall from this Sunday. Into this fray enters the latest iteration of Impossible, opening this week at the Noel Coward Theatre.

It’s unlikely that any magic show could beggar belief more than the political goings-on of the last month but the highly talented cast give it a damn fine try. Each comes with their own handy description so we can tell one from another. The Peckham-born 'explosive street magician' Magical Bones (Richard Essien to his mother and the taxman) is a dab hand at close-up magic and has the cheekiest crack of the night (“Kids, don’t try this at home. Do it at school – it’ll be far more fun.”). Through music and patter, he adds a welcome urban vibe to proceedings.

Alongside him are two ex-assistants of famed Vegas act Hans Klok in 'cutting edge conjurer' Sabine Van Diemen and 'grand illusionist' Josephine Lee as well as an impossibly handsome card monkey in 'boundary breaking magician' Ben Hart. Then there’s 'mind-blowing mind-reader' Chris Cox, 'daredevil and escapologist' Jonathan Goodwin and the latest winner of Britain’s Got Talent Lance Corporal Richard Jones. No, you probably can’t remember him either.

What do they all add up to? Well, there lies the rub. This is dim sum magic, a conveyor belt of routines that should cater to all tastes but we all know someone always ends up with the chicken feet. Each performer pops up, entertains the masses, then pops back down again to be replaced by a colleague. There are no substantial collaborations or narrative thread and the routines could be run in reverse order with no discernible difference.

'Boundary breaking magician' Ben Hart

The humour isn’t consistent, at one extreme too risqué for family audiences and, at the other, too juvenile for the adults. The routines themselves are more often than not variants on very old or common tricks. Someone being sawn in half? Check. An escape from a straitjacket? Check. An escape from chains while upside down in water? Check. Card tricks and sleight of hand? Check. A mentalist act not a million miles from the likes of Doug Segal, Peter Antoniou et al? Checkitty check check.

Some of the acts aren’t helped by the theatre setting. There’s a reason why close-up magic is called close-up magic and why street magicians rarely perform on motorways. These styles of sorcery require a certain intimacy and, while there is good use of cameras and screens to demonstrate what is happening on stage, the impact of watching some nifty sleight of hand and seeing the reaction on the mark’s face is minimal from forty feet away.

The backstage crew do a great job of adding theatrical ballast to Impossible's lightweight premise. The dramaturgs employed here not-so-subtly crowbar in an informative historical theme and the sound and lighting is all one could wish for even if the OTT dramatics and music occasionally give the average Hammer horror flick a run for its money. “Look out!” imply the overly ominous melodies, “what you are seeing is highly dangerous and it could all go tragically wrong!” Like hell. There’s more chance of a Southern train arriving on time.

Having said all that, this show has enough watercooler moments to warrant a look for those who haven’t seen a similar production. The live setting provides a more tangible connection than watching the same routines on screens small or silver but, for some of the show, that effect will decrease the further from the stage you are. Those looking to get their magic kicks in smaller surroundings may do better checking out local efforts like Ealing’s monthly Conjuring At The Court.

Impossible is far less than the sum of its parts but, then again, doing justice to the assembled talents really would be impossible.

Impossible continues at the Noel Coward Theatre until 27 August. Tickets are £10-£65. Londonist attended on a press ticket.