The Illusionists 1903 is the third in a series of shows aiming to revive the craft of magic as mainstream theatre entertainment. This incarnation presents some tricks in the performance style seen around the turn of last century. This visit to “The golden age of Magic” features a cast of eight new illusionists. As a family-friendly show, it certainly provided illusions with genuine head-scratching moments, and some surprises.
The show has a mix of juggling, card tricks, psychic readings, and some illusions that even those with a casual interest will have seen before in some form. While some came across better than others, there was a definite novelty to seeing them performed live.
A “levitating sphere” act from The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh) is more for those who like the pacing of acts from an earlier, gentler era. It was unfortunate that the magic was dispelled at times by a nylon line appearing out of thin air.
Also in keeping with the theme were some brief references to legendary performers and classic tricks. Tribute was made to one of the most famous, Harry Houdini, through an escape from a water tank by The Escapologist (Krendl). The danger suggested by the feat should have made this thrilling. However, I suspect the more observant members of the audience might inadvertently ruin the suspense for themselves.
Other acts did better at preserving their mystery. The Clairvoyants had Thommy descend on audience members whilst blindfolded Amélie correctly guessed the personal effects they held, the serial number on a $20 note, and even a child’s birthday. The pair did a very good job of concealing how the mentalism was achieved.
A collaboration between The Showman (Mark Kalin) and The Conjuress on the “sawing a woman in half” routine had audience members keeping watch on stage. Although I thought I knew how this trick was done, their variant kept me guessing. Host, The Immortal (Rick Thomas), gave his slant on a range of famous tricks. His finale was well chosen to end the show on a high
While the illusions were often quite good, it was also nice to have some more character on display. Towards this, The Charlatan (Dana Daniels) had a good (and much more modern) schtick going in his act with Dwayne the white bird that got the best laughs of the night.
Juggling by The Eccentric (Charlie Frye) was often inventive but might have gone on a bit long in some sequences. However, his card tricks indicate he’s a master of sleight-of-hand, and a screen was used so that those of us towards the back of the theatre still had a good view. This was useful in other parts of the show too.
Marionettes are a rare treat nowadays, and seeing The Grand Carlini do magic courtesy of the dexterity of puppeteer Justo Thaus was a quaint and welcome touch.
Overall, this was a very slick production, with brisk scene changes and a band aptly setting the mood. A move from individual acts to a parlour scene in the second act was a refreshing change, and the cast professionally handled the audience participation. All performers looked suited to the style of the era in frock-coats, jacquard waistcoats or velvet dresses. It might have been useful to differentiate some of the men more; from my seat I sometimes couldn’t tell which moustached magician was which.
A potential problem for this type of show is the abundance of potential spoilers — I heard some teenagers discussing what they’d seen on the TV show, Breaking the Magician’s Code afterwards. As a result, the show might lack surprise for some devotees.
While it might not have all that much history for the serious retro-buff, there’s a good assortment of vintage magic. For many in the audience of this first Melbourne performance, The Illusionists 1903 went off with an agreeable bang.
The Illusionists 1903
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 2 January 2016 – 2.00pm
Season continues to 10 January 2016
Bookings: 1300 182 183 or online at: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
For more information, visit: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au for details.
Image: Rick Thomas as The Immortal (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte