Review: The Trick, York Theatre Royal

We open with a shining proscenium arch. It is a little cracked and half of the lights have fallen out, but a sense of glamour follows it, just as it follows Mira (Lachele Carl), the magician’s assistant, as she struts on stage and performs the first trick of the night. The audience gasps and the performer disappears with a flourish, to be replaced by Mira as an old woman sitting in an armchair.

The Trick is a series of vignettes or magic tricks that flit and float around the themes of old age, grief, depression and mortality. The performance is a cabaret of different acts with different styles and ideas, and while some scenes are beautiful, the quality of the writing and the execution varies from scene to scene.

The cracked staging and missing lights beautifully mirror Mira’s mental state, whose story is woven through the performance. There is a harmony between the design and technical elements and the performance, with lighting that switches from glamorous to grieving along with a smooth shift of props and costumes. Jemima Robinson’s design is stunning.

Some vignettes express emotion that leads me almost to tears. Carl gives a heart-wrenching monologue about living alone, losing the motivation to cook and make a mess and tidy up when there is no one to do it for. The same actor tells a touching folk tale in another scene whilst in another, a medium, played by Sharlene Whyte, gives some beautifully executed psychological nuggets about the complexities of human nature. This ‘variety act’ exploration of depression fleshes out the complexities of human nature with interesting originality. There are twinkles of rare insight in Eve Leigh’s writing.

However, the show is extremely uneven. Much of the writing lacks depth, and many of the performances are weak. Some scenes feel tacked on, and sometimes it is unclear what is actually happening in a scene or why it is happening. Other scenes are interesting in their exploration of the relationship between Mira and her late husband, but the action itself feels bland and lacking in focus. The delivery of the actors is sometimes strangely stilted. At some points, it appears that certain performers forget their lines, and at other points some of the delivery feels scripted, and hesitations are often very obviously recited.

At its core, The Trick is a magic show; it is a collection of acts that tease apart what makes us human. The fact that it is so varied leads to some beautiful and eclectic acts, as well as some very strange and awkward moments. It is a mixed bag, but one written by a playwright with potential.

The Trick played York Theatre Royal until 13 April. For more information see the York Theatre Royal website.