Magic Goes Wrong
★★★☆☆, Vaudeville Theatre, London
MISCHIEF Theatre’s love for slapstick is so nostalgically English it almost feels tailor-made for the new political situation we find ourselves in, harking back as it does to a more innocent, vanished era when comedy was all about malfunctioning trousers and it was OK to laugh at the Germans.
This latest show, which follows recent new play Groan Ups, confirms their transformation from impressive fringe talent who got lucky to serious global players. For it has been conceived with American illusionists Penn and Teller, features video cameos from David Copperfield and Derren Brown, and follows on from their BBC six-parter The Goes Wrong Show.
The premise is simple, unoriginal and, in their expert hands, often blissfully funny. A tortured, inept magician (Henry Shields), terrorised by the legacy of his more famous, brilliant father, is putting on a charity show in aid of magicians who have died in the line of duty. Except he ends up adding to the body count rather than raising funds as trick after trick doesn’t turn out as planned, snuffing out stage hands and mutilating practitioners in the process.
Henry Lewis’s balefully witty, telepathically challenged Mind Mangler has his own mind mangled by a malicious teleprompter; Dave Hearn’s wannabe macho escapologist The Blade — surely a send up of daredevil Jonathan Goodwin — keeps losing body parts while Nancy Zamit and Bryony Corrigan are a useless German double act with rictus grins.
What’s missing is the unexpected — this is a series of uneven sketches on the same running gag, although there is also some proper, brilliant magic too. Mischief Theatre need to advance the formula if they are to stay ahead (if you’ve seen them before, this offers little new) but if this show is them treading water then they do so with panache.