Magic Goes Wrong makes for a night of sure-fire entertainment. Created by Mischief Theatre – the hit company behind The Play That Goes Wrong and Comedy About a Bank Robbery – in collaboration with Penn & Teller, this production finds itself atop an absurd collage of pratfalls, song, dance and of course, attempts at the impossible. Now with three sell-out shows in the West End and a six-part series currently airing on BBC One, Mischief’s signature humour is fast becoming part of London’s lifeblood.
A charity fundraiser showcasing ‘Disasters in Magic’, Magic Goes Wrong is staged as a homage to the late father of our protagonist, the magician ‘Sophisticato’ (played by Henry Shields). Overwrought and increasingly desperate, Shields endeavours to supervise the evening’s disastrous events, as well as its barmy contributing acts. Here, unforeseeable accidents – as indicated by a rather lengthy content warning at the beginning of the piece – are met with a whip-smart script and artful elements of improvisation.
Much like its colourful, sparkling set (designed by Will Bowen), Magic Goes Wrong is demonstrative of an almost imperceptible level of sophistication. There is, undoubtedly, huge skill in Mischief’s efforts of spectacular failure. These layers of invisible choreography demand praise, particularly in those mounting risks posed by ever-expanding episodes of audience participation. While risk-taking seems to be the event’s main objective, a sense of danger doesn’t make itself known until after the interval. Magic, then, is stronger in its second half, with chapters of both rehearsed and real-time folly enough to make one’s sides split with laughter.
While some jokes do wear thin from overuse, others become more spectacular as the production endures. Henry Lewis in particular, excels as the ‘Mind Mangler’. A self-professed medium, the Mangler’s supposed powers (including an ability to taste the first names of his audience members, or guess their jobs by way of enhanced sense of smell) are made real through wicked comic timing. As The Blade (a very distant relative of David Blaine), David Hearn uses a striking arsenal of props to his advantage, with the German circus-duo Bear & Spitzmaus (Nancy Zamit and Bryony Corrigan) proving a source of light relief throughout.
A rambunctious company, Mischief have created a winning theatrical formula; Magic’s unexpected qualities and an endearing, chaotic temperament are sure to have you giggling way into the night. Don’t be fooled though, this company has many a surprise up their sleeve!