Performing Arts

Review: The Illusionists

The IllusionistsPresented by the Adelaide Festival Centre in association with Tom Lawson and Simon Painter
Reviewed Tuesday 2nd January 2013

To anybody who remembers earlier stage and television magicians, going back over many decades, the majority of illusions would be familiar, from the Wakeling/Selbeit sawing the woman in half, to producing doves and making them and their cage vanish, to Houdini’s water torture cabinet, to the motorcycle that vanishes from a suspended cage and many other standards of the profession.

This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with recreating these time honoured illusions. This is what magicians have always done, sometimes varying or improving them along the way. The linking rings, various types of levitation, use of the Svengali deck or the King pack for card tricks, as well as those using a standard deck, the dove pan, guillotines, sawing up assistants, the multiplying billiard balls, linking rings, and the many and varied appearing and disappearing tricks, have been done by just about every magician at one time or another in their career. What is more important is how well and how convincingly they are performed.

With this group of illusionists the level of expertise is very high, and it was a pleasure to see many old favourites alongside some newer illusions. Each of the illusionists had their own personal style which also enhanced their performances. Although being given separate billing as The Enchantress, Jinger Leigh was actually the assistant to The Gentleman, her husband, Mark Kalin, rather than performing as an illusionist in her own right, helping him in such illusions as a levitation in the style of the Indian Swamis, or Fakirs, and the very effective performance of the cutting the woman in half illusion.

The Trickster, the high camp Jeff Hobson, is as great a comedian and incomparable compère as he is an illusionist and his antics, often emphasising his sexual preference when being assisted by male audience members, kept the audience in fits of laughter, interspersed with wonder at his skill. His finale revealed one more hilarious surprise.

The Anti-Conjurer, Dan Sperry, combines his excellent skills in prestidigitation with some wickedly black humour, delivered in manically rapid, yet clear dialogue. His diction is superb and, although there where times where people cringed and tried to look away from more gruesome moments, but failed to actually take their eyes off him, he was clearly one of the audience favourites.

The Escapologist, Andrew Basso, hid nothing behind screens, whether escaping from a straight jacket while suspended by his feet from a cable, or in a tank of water, handcuffed, with his feet locked into the lid of the tank. Everything he did was in plain sight, and filled with suspense.

The Grand Illusionist, Brett Daniels, with an attractive pillion passenger, vanished, along with his massive motorcycle, while suspended in a cage above the stage, only to reappear moments later from a distant location. This illusion was a regular feature for the likes of Doug Henning and David Copperfield and is in good hands nowadays with Daniels.

Then there was The Inventor, Kevin James, who took a three piece doll, assembled it, and brought it to life. With one swing of a chain saw he cut a standing assistant in two, the bottom half walking off stage, and the top half remaining, clearly still alive. He also turned summer to winter. What impressed me most, though, out of everything in the production, was when he folded a piece of paper into a tiny creature, sat it on his hand and made it move. No, that is not that impressive in itself, there is more to come. It was when he took both hands away to leave it floating in mid air, less than a metre from the nearest audience member, that jaws dropped open. He then refolded it into a rose, levitated it, and then suddenly turned it into a real long-stemmed rose as a gift for his tiny helper.

Telling you what illusions they performed, though, spoils nothing, since these tricks, as we called them back in my day, must be seen to fully appreciate the abilities, the creativity, the dexterity, and the showmanship of the performers. If you happen to know how a trick is done, there is still pleasure to be gained from seeing it done superbly well.

A combination of a live rock band and recorded music, elaborate staging and lighting, and colourful costumes all adds to the excitement. The real bonus here, though, is that, where magicians usually perform a full length show alone, this production offers a diverse group of illusionists on the same bill, all marvellous, and all very different; a rare opportunity for Adelaide.

The audience consisted of tiny tots, senior citizens, and everybody else in between, and it wasn’t always the younger contingent that was open-mouthed and wide-eyed with wonder. Bookings have understandably been heavy, but you might still be lucky enough to get tickets if you move fast enough.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Festival Centre event page

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to 12th January 2013
Duration: 2hrs 20mins (incl interval)
Tickets: $59.90 to $99.90
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here

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