There is a lot to commend in this wonderfully slapstick, pantomime-like comedy of errors from the combined pens of Mischief Theatre and famed, American magicians Penn & Teller.
Magic Goes Wrong is yet another title to add to Mischief ‘s burgeoning and impressive stock of plays where things go wrong. And there are now many of these: The Play That Goes Wrong, The Goes Wrong Show, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, and, rumour has it, there may even be an idea for an Opera Goes Wrong.
The bright, garish set designs by Will Bowen, wonderfully outrageous, Eurotrashy costumes by Roberto Surnace, and inventive, sometimes quite bonkers, direction by Adam Meggido, is a delight. The highly enthusiastic and receptive Birmingham Hippodrome audience were evidence, if evidence were needed, that this is a colourful, fun, all-singing, all-dancing, pretty wild ride of show. And it is pulled-off by a cast of just nine principals, all of whom are as talented as the other, and perform their own particular characters’ type of magical art – be that mindreading, sawing-in-half, levitation, card trickery or quite terrifying antics with knives, spears and even a ravenous bear – which delightfully gets loose into the audience and, via video-link to magician David Blaine, devours the poor man before our very eyes!
There are some fine performances here from actors Sam Hill as the main protagonist Sophisticato, whose backstory loosely –very loosely – holds the tenuous narrative together; Keifer Moriarty as Blade, a deranged wielder of knives, chainsaw and other implements of torture, who eventually ends up drowning in a pretty good mock-up of Harry Houdini’s water-tank escape, and; the appropriately named Rory Fairbrain as Mind Manager, who effects some fun, but mostly disastrous, mind-bending interplays with the audience, in what, at five, long separate scenes, felt like far too many set pieces; two or three would have been plenty.
As well as a bear running loose in the auditorium, there is also a proverbial elephant in the room in this piece of theatre. For those of us who love and adore Mischief’s earlier “things-go-wrong” franchise, Magic Goes Wrong really isn’t a very good piece of writing.
At two-and-a-half hours of what was essentially the same gag – ie. I’m going to do a magic trick and it will (most usually) go wrong – over-and-over again, and with pacing, timing and delivery sometimes tediously slow – almost to the “point of boredom” I heard one audience member say – and I m so, so sorry to have to say this, but it felt awfully amateurish.
At times this clearly excellent, gifted cast were desperately trying to get us, the audience, to like what they were presenting, knowing, perhaps, that the material they are working with is not particularly good. In reality this is a rather poor text and an unbalanced, badly-paced piece of dramaturgy. One wonders if there exists something of a disconnect between the genuinely clever and funny writing & dramatic vision of creatives Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and the rather forced, laboured writing-cum-performance style of magicians Penn & Teller. The show is simply not snappy enough and hugely repetetive. It is also not really suitable for children.
There really isn’t much of a plot in this show, and the endless repeating of the same kind of gags over and again simply does not justify a duration of two-and-a-half hours. Frankly, the entire show could be reduced to a tighter, far better written hour-and-a-half. One has to wonder if the creative team at Mischief Theatre should perhaps take a bit of a break; sit back, look at why their many other “things go wrong” shows have been so very good, well-paced and successful, and why this current offering is a bit of a damp-squib.
Writers – Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Syaer, Henry Shield, Teller
Director – Adam Meggido
Set Designer – Will Bowen
Magic Consultant – Ben Hart
The Players – Daniel Anthony, Valerie Cutko, Sam Hill, Keifer Moriarty, Rory Fairbrain, Jocelyn Prah, Cloe Tennenbaum, Ushbel Cummings, Ricky Oakley, C J Field, Jay Olpin