S1L3NC3’s website proclaims him to be an ‘underground artist whose canvas is your mind’, while his press release has dubbed him an ‘up and coming dark Mind Reader & Illusionist’. Trying to imagine what these descriptions might translate to on stage in the context of a performance does not get me terribly near to the reality of the situation. Watching him fumble about with a notebook as he starts his show, scrawny, in slightly baggy jeans and a white v-necked undershirt, I’d say he looks most like someone’s slightly awkward cousin who is nonplussed to have been dragged along to a lame magic show and even less enthusiastic to find that he’s starring in it. Luckily, mine is not a terribly accurate impression either.
I don’t know enough about illusion/mind-reading/magic to, well, choose the appropriate term for what I saw, let alone to say whether it was innovative or genre-defying. But, I would say that S1L3NC3 performed a mix of minor death-defying stunts with a psychological bent; psychological in that a lot of his tricks relied on suspense; psychological in that relied heavily on reading the audience; and psychological in that they attempted to engage the intellect. There was, for example, a lot of talk about free will in S1L3NC3: Mind Reader. And when I write ‘talk,’ I am, of course, writing metaphorically because, while this show incorporated whole orchestras of noise, the artist, true to his moniker, remained silent throughout.
Alternating between standard circus stunts like swallowing razor blades (impressive, but hardly original!) and more compelling mind games, by the end of his performance, it is clear that S1L3NC3 is capable of more than a few mind-blowing tricks. But it was something beyond the actual illusions which made this show more interesting than its shock value. And I think a large part of that was Sil3nc3 himself, as he strikes a strange, wonderful balance between morbidity and comedy, between sheer spectacle and a deeper art.
His mimes and facial expressions, for instance, are deftly employed for comic effect. In conjunction with a perfectly juxtaposed soundtrack (do I recall hearing classic Radiohead, and some sort of remix from a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory number in amongst the heartbeat-inspired suspense-inducing tracks?), the show’s would-be darker elements are subject to a sort of deadpan patina. For example, at the beginning of his show, S1L3NC3 plays Russian Roulette with a collection of staple guns. Sure, the trick is nerve-wracking and thrilling for the audience, but the hook is that he looks so disappointed every time he discovers that there isn’t any blood. He’s playing the teenager so irreverent that he’d like to shoot his jugular with a staple to see what happens because he’s that bored, and he makes light of it with his choice of song, with the gleam of excitement in his eye.
Ultimately it was the underlying theme that I found most gripping. Throughout the course of this show, S1L3NC3 makes you conscious of the various influences at work on your mind at any time, while also exerting his power as one of them. He was able to guess what members of his audience were thinking because he had created circumstances which provoked those thoughts in them. In a very raw, spectacular way, this is a model of what any kind of theatre, what any kind of art, endeavours to do to its audience; that is that which S1L3NC3 does so cunningly – he influences our thoughts, (dis)abuses (us of) our realities, and attempt to shock us into a somewhat greater lucidity. Whatever else anyone wants to call it, I’d call that some brilliant magic.
This review is of S1L3NC3: Mind Reader as it was performed at the Roundhouse Camden as part of the Camden Fringe Festival on the 3rd of August 2010. It will be running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Venue 53) 9-14 & 16-21 August. See the EdFringe.com website for more information and to book tickets.