People sawn in half, swords passing through assistant filled barrels, beautiful glowing orbs that move with the impossible dancing grace of ball lightning, gags that will have you rolling in the aisles, card tricks that are so relentlessly implausible that you may begin to feel a little bewildered: this show delivers wonderfully on its promises.
The Illusionists’ brand has become a global phenomenon since it was first produced by Simon Painter and Tim Lawson at the Sydney Opera House in 2012. In its various incarnations since then it has toured to over 300 cities. The program states the show has been seen by tens of millions of people, and boasts of several records including the highest grossing week at the Opera House.
With a line up of nine magicians practicing different magical arts this show has something for every breed of magic enthusiast. The master of ceremonies is Jeff Hobson (AKA The Trickster). He’s a fast talking and funny sleight of hand master who mixes rapid fire joke telling with an amusing self awareness about the small scale of his magic tricks like ‘egg in the bag’.
Illusions on a grander scale, which felt perhaps more fitting in the Concert Hall of the Opera House, were provided by world renowned experts Mark Kalin (The Snowman), Kevin James (The Inventor), and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress). Reading through their CVs I had the sense I was witnessing the who’s who of the magic world. They’re a highly decorated bunch, regularly performing for Royalty, Presidents, and on the television.
An Ha Lim (The Manipulator) was a personal favourite; he produced hundreds of playing cards from thin air. The escape artist and dangerman Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil) lived up to his job description. He’s set on fire at one point and I could immediately feel the heat, twenty metres from the stage. There’s also Chris Cox (The Mentalist) – the self described mind reader who can’t read minds.
The show caters to patrons of all ages. The children around me in the audience appeared to be having the time of their lives, as did the teenagers and the adults. Hearing the hushed awe and the gasps of the younger audience, I was taken back to a time when the world was immeasurably large and full of wonder; when so little could readily be explained, and everything was taken on faith. The magicians communed with the kids on this plane; making rose shaped napkins dance, and snow billow voluminously from cupped hands.
There’s a scene with a scorpion that may need rethinking: it was uncomfortable seeing the creature in distress (unless it was a robot – I can’t be 100% certain of anything I saw). At times the show is not overly PC: several moments might be tidied up a little, and it may also benefit from a bigger finale.
The Illusionists put on a great night’s entertainment, and with so many world class acts and moments of wonder you’re almost certain to come away grinning and with a renewed belief in the power of magic.
The Illusionists – Direct from Broadway
Concert Hall – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Wednesday 19 December 2018 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 29 December 2018
Following the Sydney season, The Illusionists – Direct from Broadway will play the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (9 – 19 January 2019); and the Regent Theatre, Melbourne (22 – 27 January 2019). For more information, visit: www.theillusionistslive.com for details.
Image: The Illusionists (supplied)
Review: Oliver Wakelin