Review: Magic Goes Wrong, Vaudeville Theatre

I’m ashamed to say that until Magic Goes Wrong I hadn’t seen any of Mischief Theatre Company’s work, despite following their plethora of shows (The Play that Goes Wrong, A Comedy about a Bank Robbery and Peter Pan Goes Wrong) and desperately wanting to get a ticket. It’s well-known that their shows are immensely, insanely popular and a true crowd-pleaser as they appeal to all-ages.

This one’s setting is the ‘Disasters in Magic Charity Fundraiser’ with a sign and set akin to an all-inclusive hotel’s entertainment lounge. 

We are introduced to Sophisticato (Henry Shields) the son of a famed magician who tragically died after being crushed by chests of his magic props. Sophisticato is raising money to provide aid and solace for others crushed (it’s a pun, yes) by a magical mishap.

It is a slow start with introductions to characters, including sisters Bär and Spitzmaus from Germany. The sisters dance and perform the role of the magician’s assistant, The Blade (Dave Hearn) a ‘dangerous’ magician, as well as Sophisticato’s suspected mother Eugenia, The Mind Mangler and Mickey (Jonathan Sayer, Mischief’s Company Director) who is definitely, repeat definitely, not a plant in the audience called… Brian? Or is it Steve for this trick?

I am drawn to the character Bär portrayed by Nancy Zamit. Well, when I say drawn, what I mean is her characterisation is highly amusing with her physicality and timing being impeccable. 

Zamit is so funny I can almost, but not quite, look past the fact that this stereotyping of German people is slightly tone deaf and uncomfortable at points. Mischief are so talented that they in particular don’t need to resort to jokes about people’s accents.

However, my biggest critique of this show is that there is no real empathy, sympathy, in fact, no emotional resonance with these characters. These magicians and performance artists are amusing, they are talented and they perform some incredible feats but the actual characters feel inauthentic and undeveloped, which makes for a show that feels of much the same tone all the way through. Ah another person gets attacked by a bear – oh look Blade’s hurt himself again – oh no Sophisticato is stuck on stage. 

Apart from one.

My affections truly lie with ‘The Mind Mangler’ – also described by the lit up tagline ‘arse stench’ in a (perhaps intentional) homage to Fawlty Towers’ changing of the sign to create crude jokes. Artistic Director of Mischief, Henry Lewis, has a comedic style that you can’t teach ad-libbing within an inch of his life to some deliberately idiotic audience shout-outs and heckles. Lewis begins with a trick guessing audience members’ names and he succeeds, not in magic, but in humour – as do an audience who when asked ‘are there any John’s in the house?’ have no reply in the moment, but later all reply ‘John’ when asked what their name is. This level of comfort, banter, joviality is facilitated by the company’s mischief. 

Despite its flaws, this production has some truly spectacular tricks. This production has you leaving with a wide grin on your face. Its as much for your nan as your son. And that, in itself, is worth the visit.

Magic Goes Wrong is playing at The Vaudeville Theatre until 31 May. For more information and tickets visit the show website.