Mischief Theatre is taking over the world. The Play That Goes Wrong is into its sixth year at the Duchess Theatre in London, The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is keeping it company at the Criterion, and the team’s TV spin-off – The Goes Wrong Show – is getting rave reviews on BBC One. Not bad for a troupe that were performing above a pub only eight years ago. Now new to the mix is Magic Goes Wrong at the Vaudiville Theatre.
Magic Goe Wrong is set-up as a low-rent magic variety show that exists to raise money for victims of magical tricks that go wrong! This latest ‘Wrong’ ’un is in collaboration with celebrated American magicians Penn & Teller. They don’t themselves appear here but their signature style is apparent throughout with surprisingly sly sleights of hand mixed in with grander illusions. Among the hilarious displays of rank idiocy,there are a fair number of breathtaking tricks worthy of more serious magic shows like The Illusionists.
The show is vintage mischief. The compere is hapless magician Sophisticato, played by co-writer Henry Shields with his customary Cleese-like delivery. Sophisticato ends up adding to the body count rather than raising funds for victims of magic disaster’s as trick after trick doesn’t turn out as planned, snuffing out stage hands and mutilating practitioners in the process. A flashing totaliser reminds us just how little has been raised, and lightbulb letters overhead sputter to spell out occasional rude messages.
Henry Lewis (another of the writing team) plays a mind reader – the Mind Mangler who has severe anger issues and unique ways in guessing someone’s name or occupation! Third Mischief writer-performer Jonathan Sayer is his audience plant who keeps returning in disguise but forgets to change his name.
Dave Hearn’s ‘The Blade’, an alpha male stuntman (very similar to Criss Angel) holds his breath for an impressive timeframe and continues to have his giant machismo repeatedly punctured by the horrific props he’s impaled upon!
The weakest material goes to a pair of German acrobats Bar and Spitzmaus who nevertheless kick off a decent running gag about a vicious bear. While the show takes some gentle swipes at the fact that women in magic are so often relegated to playing mute, smiling sidekicks in sparkly tights, the show does not really tackle or challenge this in any satisfying way.
The joy in this sometimes-riotous production comes in working out (or trying to work out) whether interjections from the audience are from stooges or plants, or genuine heckles. The challenge for the cast, particularly with the scripted interruptions, is to keep it looking fresh – and in the case of bona fide audience responses, to respond quickly, appropriately and amusingly.
The vaudevillian streaks of slapstick, pratfalls and straight-faced japery make for an entertaining evening while Penn & Teller’s subtle but noticeable contributions lift this more than a few notches above the average West End comedy.
Magic Goes Wrong is at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH. Tickets from £20, booking until 30 August 2020.