After all the obvious stuff like love, friendship, good health and chocolate, magic ranks very highly on my list of Favourite Things. As I strolled into the Grand Royale hotel last night, I was concerned that The Magic Hour wouldn’t live up to my ridiculously high expectations but my concerns quickly vanished in a metaphorical puff of smoke. It was one of the most entertaining evenings out I have had in a long time.
Tony Middleton, aka Sonic, has created an atmospheric, site-specific homage to the Victorian era’s golden age of magic, which was itself in thrall to “exotic” climes and times. The setting is a beautiful room in the hotel, very plausible as a late nineteenth century salon.
Tony performs the ancient Egyptian cups and balls routine and emulates the creator of a Turkish-themed act, a Doctor Inos, whose box of tricks he tells us he has recently bought at auction.
Sleight of hand and deft card tricks give way to more elaborate tricks with a longer set up and some audience participation. Towards the end the mood darkens, culminating in the recreation of a séance.
Only occasionally is the “spell” broken by the appearance of modern props like a Pyrex measuring jug and a bright, smiley -face juggling ball. Everything else is so steeped in Victoriana that it seems a shame not to apply the theme throughout. His suit is also, ahem, suspiciously lumpy, as much a piece of equipment as a costume.
However, the show is hugely captivating, well-paced and Tony simultaneously pulls off an expert display of magic as well as providing us with a fascinating historical lecture, contextualising his work and even generously letting us in on the secret at one point. He’s a great host: witty, quick and cheeky. He’s created much more than a magic show; it’s a piece of theatre: a funny, clever, charmingly informative and, at times, bloody scary show.
Reviewed by Alison Bray