REVIEW: The Illustionists (Shaftesbury Theatre) ★★★

Having played over 400 cities in 40 countries, The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway has returned to the Shaftesbury Theatre where it holds the highest grossing single week record from 2015. Their new line-up is a mouthful comprised of: The Unforgettable Enzo, The Manipulator Yu Ho-Jin, The Showman James More, The Futurist Adam Trent, The Mentalist Chris Cox, The Trickster Paul Dabek and The Daredevil Jonathan Goodwin. Some of these names may be familiar to audiences of Britain’s/France’s Got Talent. Producers Simon Painter and Tim Lawson claim they wanted to invent the Avengers of Magic: a group of magicians, all with unique strengths, demonstrating their collective talents together. Heart and framing of the show seem to be Adam Trent whose lifelong dream of becoming a magician introduces and ends the performance with some emotion; and MCing joker Paul Dabek, delighting the spectators with his wit but also managing to wow with some tricks of his own.

“The Illusionists” looks slick – stage design relies on background projections of stars and pulse measurements, as well as a massive screen which plays close-up footage of what is happening, filmed continuously by a team of cameramen. The tone of the show is very tongue in cheek – the magicians openly defy their audience’s scepticism and dare them to understand what is going on.

The greatest tease is charming Enzo Weyne. “It’s a game”, he says, “I want you to try hard to figure this one out”. Obviously an impossible feat, he then walks the audience through it step by step – just to fool them again. Another highlight is Jonathan Goodwin who stuns with dangerous escape routines. James More gets himself out of another hot situation, while Chris Cox wows with incredible mindreading far removed from cold-read-guessing that people might expect. Yo Hu-Jin, who won the FISM World Championships of Magic, is obviously technically very elegant.

“The Illusionists” is big on ‘traditional’ magic – if you wrote down 5 things you’d expect at a magic show, you’d probably have jotted down most of this production’s lineup: many card tricks, escaping chains and handcuffs, artists disappearing from chairs. This is further reflected in the large section on Harry Houdini in its programme, even though no verbal mention is made to him.

“The Illusionists” is fun for the entire family, including its younger audience without solely catering to them, entertaining and very funny. It is not spectacularly surprising or breaking with convention.

The performers put an emphasis on the “fond memories” made during a performance rather than the showstoppers itself, and that is exactly how it ultimately feels.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent

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