REVIEW: MAGIC GOES WRONG (Vaudeville Theatre) ★★★★

Somewhere, deep in the West End Wilma vaults, lies my review of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong from when it premiered in the small space above the Old Red Lion.

I absolutely loved it then and so it’s been a huge pleasure to enjoy the company’s success story over the seven years since; West End runs for “Play” and subsequent productions “Peter Pan Goes Wrong”, “The Comedy About a Bank Robbery” and “Groan Ups”, an Olivier Award, a Broadway run, and currently a television series using the “Wrong” format.

Now, as part of a year-long season at the Vaudeville Theatre, Mischief Theatre have teamed up with Las Vegas superstar magicians Penn & Teller to bring their very special style of meta-mayhem to all things sleight of hand and illusional.

There are some who might suggest that adding another show to the “Wrong” canon might be flogging a great idea to death, and there are moments in this mostly very funny production that give that argument some weight.

The idea here is a benefit show for those who have come a cropper in the course of magic tricks, compered by Sophisticato (Henry Shields) and inspired by a fragile relationship with his deceased magician father.

While ‘Play” and ‘Peter Pan’ had narrative structure (somewhere) amid the chaos to carry them forward, what we have here is a variety show of turns, each more hapless than the last. Inevitably some bits are stronger than others and the weaker moments do slacken the pace and expose the thin premise on which the production is built. Mostly though, it’s very funny and carried off with the immaculate timing and aplomb that we’ve come to expect from this excellent group of actors.

Anyone looking for subtlety should walk on by, but that’s the charm. We just know that daredevil The Blade’s (Dave Hearn) catching the bullet trick isn’t going to end well, or Sophisticato’s recreation of his father’s dove act. And as for sawing a woman in half . . .

There are some nice surprises though. A stunt where The Blade tries to survive immersion in a tank of water while Sophisticato struggles to complete a card trick seems to have overstayed its welcome until it’s pulled back by a conclusion that few saw coming.

The real showstopper of the evening, however, is Henry Lewis as pompous psychic Mind Mangler. His involvement with the audience is achingly funny.

All in all, Mischief Theatre have done it again with another fun night at the theatre where more goes right than wrong . . . or should that be more goes wrong than right?

Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: Robert Day

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