The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway. Directed by Neil Dorward. The Works Entertainment. Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until December16. Bookings (02) 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Magic show The Illusionists is more than welcome, especially near the beginning of the holiday season. This is no series of lone performers working in front of a curtain but a highly technical, fully staged and increasingly absorbing succession of acts that hold the audience for more than two hours.
Jeff Hobson’s The Trickster has more than a touch of Liberace (and his sparkly costumes) as he warms up the audience with tricks and swift talk. Initially some of the patter feels somewhat corny and overloaded with innuendo but that settles as the wonder factor grows.
And it’s wonder that drives this show. There are vanishings and reappearances. Someone is cut in half. There is a man who survives The Warrior (Robyn Sharpe) and the multiple spikes that she coolly drives through the box we have seen him climb into. She plays with fire and arrows too. And Harry Houdini is evoked as Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil) combines an escape from a straitjacket with going up in flames. Upside down.
Mark Kalin (The Showman) and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) combine elegantly and frequently, especially in a sequence that involves the jewellery of some of the audience and a trick that looks, like so much else in this show, impossible.
Impossible, too, is the mind reading of The Mentalist (Chris Cox) who, with a lunatic edge, dives energetically in and out of the audience and improbably reveals what they are thinking.
Sound, settings and costumes are dark, with an echo of steam punk. Dark-clad people prowl the stage and the audience with cameras and the images are relayed to an upstage screen.
At first the chief function of this use of technology appears to be to add close-ups to tricks that still defy explanation.
But there’s an element both of chance and calculation here, when The Inventor (Kevin James) goes into the audience to work with a child volunteer and her amazed reaction to one of his gentle tricks with tissue paper is suddenly up there in front of the whole audience.
In fact it is this increasing involvement of the younger ones that lifts the whole evening. Two boys egg on their father’s involvement in banter, and a shoal of hands go up to be part of a magical on-stage moment in a circle of light with The Inventor producing snow from not very much tissue.
And the jokiness of the opening chatter dies away in the face of the supreme style of The Manipulator (An Halim), whose act consist simply of a flowing sequence of quiet card tricks. There’s no patter, there’s no commentary, just an elegant man in a dark shiny coat producing card after card, and how he does it, the cameras will not reveal.
Excellent pre-Christmas fare.