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Phil Willmott

Review: THE ILLUSIONISTS at the Shaftesbury Theatre

The Illusionists After decades in the doldrums, associated unfashionably with tacky variety shows from the 1970s, stage magic is very much back in the public eye with a whole generation of sexy young magicians turning acts like Dynamo, with his slight-of-hand street/wise act, into big celebrities.

The West End currently has two major magic shows, Derren Brown's at the Palace Theatre, and The Illusionists at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Brown has particularly brought magic back into the mainstream with his high profile TV programmes and a series of hit productions filling UK theatres, on tour and in the West End.

None of the performers in The Illusionists are household names but it's an opportunity to see world class acts, which vary from close up magic, fortunately projected on to to screens which allow you to see what's going on, and the more spectacular stunts which are influenced by the great magician Houdini, who achieved superstar status in the early nineteenth century.

There's a very contemporary feel to proceedings though with stylish, modern design, rock music and an engaging youthful line up.

You get to see seven top stage magicians for your money and this production has already played very successful runs around the world, notably in the US.

I've never seen a Las Vegas magic show but I imagine the experience is pretty closely replicated for us at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Styling himself as the “Rock Star of Magic” and " Houdini's natural successor", Andrew Basso is a charming Italian who recreates Houdini's Water Torture trick, which apparently necessitate him holding his breath for 4 minutes. Even more of an achievement is that he manages to make us really care whether he succeeds in escaping from a watery death. Of course we all know he's going to but the seeds of doubt which he plants in our mind keep us on the edge of our seats.

It's nice to have a Brit in the line up, Jamie Raven, who you may remember appeared in Britain’s Got Talent. His bag of tricks include a truly baffling levitation sequence and the ability to literally generate money before our eyes. A very useful trick for Christmas Shoppers!

There's a lot of bombast, loud rock music and high energy but there are also some quieter moments which make a big impression particularly the elegant silence of Den Den, who conjures up beautiful paper creations before our eyes which vanish as unexpectedly.

Colin Cloud is apparently a trained criminal psychologist. He certainly manages to master an impressive mind reading act in which he extracts a seemingly impossible range of facts and figures from his targets.

There's a steam punk cross-bow artist with an unusual spin on the William Tell apple-off-the-head routine and even a terrific example of how to engage kids from the audience with magic.

Indeed it's a truly family friendly show and as long as you take it all at face value, looking for fun rather then an intellectual work-out, you'll get a highly entertaining and engaging evening that'll send home you buzzing and baffled.

Yes, there's the requisite sawing-someone-in-half trick but it has a few amusing new twists and thankfully there's none of the old style sexism which so dismayed audiences last summer when another West End magic show reduced women to mere eye-candy assistants.

There's still no female magicians in the line-up though. Ladies, learn a few magic tricks! There's obviously a world shortage of women conjurers!

The Illusionists