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Theatre review: The Illusionists 1903 at the Canberra Theatre

This is a great show for all the family, full of mystery, humour and delight.

The Illusionists 1903.  Writer and consultant Mike Caveney. Directed by Neil Dorward. Creative Director Mark Kalin. Produced by Simon Painter and Tim Lawson. Canberra Theatre. Until December 16. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.

In an age when we are daily assailed by the high-tech wizardry of special effects, and the magical fantasy of the digital era, it is a welcome relief to be drawn back in time to the Golden Age of Magic, performed by masters and mistresses of the art, live upon a stage before an audience willing to believe and be seduced by the wonder, the awe and the miracle of magic. The Illusionists 1903 harks back to a time when variety played the halls of entertainment and before films lured audiences into a very different world of make-believe. 

Creative director Mark Kalin​, the Showman, invites an audience back in time to the golden age of magic at the turn of the 20th century. He is accompanied by fellow illusionists the Conjuress (Jinger Leigh), the Eccentric (Charlie Frye), the Escapologist (Krendl​),the Clairvoyants (Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass) and the Charlatan (Dana Daniels). Puppeteer Justo Thaus​ skilfully manipulates the strings of the final member of the illusionists, his marionette magician, the Grand Carlini. Live musicians provide a stirring accompaniment as the illusionists conjure a world of wonderment, astounding in its mystery, bewildering in its skilful trickery, breathtaking in its daring and hilarious in its humour. 

One moment an audience gasps in amazement at the sleight of hand or juggling prowess of the Eccentric, or holds the breath in sheer suspense as the Escapologist tackles a death-defying feat inside the water tank. We laugh at the clownish antics of the Charlatan as he playfully fools with his volunteer from the audience while his obedient dove, Dwayne, watches on. The Conjuress sweetly submits to being sawn in half by the Showman and audiences look on in puzzlement as blindfolded Amélie utters the serial numbers on an audience member's five-dollar note. How can this be so? Puzzlement hangs like an opaque curtain about the mind. All too soon the Clairvoyants bring a night of delight and wonderment to an awe-inspiring close with an unbelievable act of levitation. 

Bemused, bewildered and enchanted by century-old magic, the audience leaves the mind-blowing illusion of the theatre for the real world outside.  The Golden Age of Magic has once again woven its spell-binding thread. Not even the seasoned cynic could resist its old-world charm. 

What will remain is the wonder and disbelief, transformed into a willing belief in what our eyes could see, our ears could hear and our imagination could unleash. The Illusionists have spun their spell and the ghosts of magic past have visited the masters of magic present to thrill and entertain the audiences of today. Do not miss this wonderful show for all the family.

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