REVIEW: DAS FEST (The Vaults) ★★

Philipp Oberlohr walked away with the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Vaults Festival. This year he returns with his newest spectacle Das Fest. The title translates to ‘party’, or as he puts it, a celebration – of the audience’s past and future. However, a party it is not. Oberlohr only alludes to this supposed gaiety briefly, but in atmosphere, the show is more of a quiet slow burner.

At the start, Oberlohr divides the audience in two: the memories, and the ‘dares’ (this could be anything from shaving a beard to moving countries). Throughout the performance, Oberlohr reads the minds of audience members, either by merely touching their hands or by picking up their envelopes (remarkable: he deducts their content without opening them). In between the interactive elements, he either pretends to be Sigmund Freud, or shares poetic and bizarre mental images, which quite surprisingly later on relate to a spectator’s visualisation.

While other mindreaders try to deduct information from their participants with pointed questions, Oberlohr seemingly knows everything about a person without so much as small-talking to them. He takes a look at one woman in the audience and describes her hike down a mountain in South America. How?!? Well, if anywhere in London you’d find pure magic, it would be at the end of the strange rabbithole that is The Vaults, and if you believed any man that he can hear your memories, it would be him.

Unfortunately, his truly astonishing mind-reading episodes fall flat as they are done completely without fanfare or showmanship. Oberlohr is a curious case, as he does not seem to have much stage presence – at the same time, he is utterly likeable and watchable. It is hard to pinpoint the exact shortcomings of this show, but they are probably best attributed to the odd pacing (or lack thereof), and misplaced expectations. The blurb promises a dazzling combination of ‘storytelling, live art, clowning, physical theatre and illusions’. ‘Das Fest’ really does none of those – it is a very simple one man show that relies on Oberlohr’s illusionist skills and personality.

‘Das Fest’ is a strange amalgam at odds with itself – Oberlohr as a person and for his talent is well worth seeing, while the show itself is not. I still can’t quite decide what I actually think about it – maybe I should have asked him to ready my mind.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent


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