IF you mix the hilarious Mischief Theatre and Las Vegas superstar magicians Penn and Teller, you ought to have a recipe for amazing magical mayhem. Certainly many in the packed Theatre Royal audience loved Magic Goes Wrong and laughed a lot.
Perhaps it helps to be a fan of magic – there are several big and some classic tricks and illusions which baffle and delight the viewer. A woman is sawn in half; people disappear from closed boxes; another woman is “fired” from a cannon and appears, in a different outfit, on the opposite side of the stage; and there are some how-do-they-do-that goings on in ancient Egypt.
But as an evening at the theatre, Magic Goes Wrong is much less than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t hold together – the narrative thread is vanishingly thin. What you have is a series of sketches, some clever, some funny, some boring. It ends on a jarringly sentimental note, the last thing you expect from a Mischief Theatre show.
I love The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and was really looking forward to this new show, so it is disappointing to report that, for me, it just doesn’t pull the rabbit out of the hat.
The narrative, such as it is, centres on a would-be magician, Sophisticato (Sam Hill), who is trying to step into the shoes of his late, great magician father. He has discovered that his father had another (preferred) family in Germany, and that he has twin stepsisters, Spitzmaus and Bar (Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum).
Can he prove that he is a real magician? Will he discover who his real mother was?
Much of the action, predictably, focuses on tricks going wrong and illusions falling flat. There is some clever stagecraft (congratulations to the stage managers and their brilliant team), as well as great physical skills from all the company and some old-fashioned, laugh-out-loud pratfalls.
The biggest problem for me is the Mind Mangler, a sort of sub-sub-sub Derren Brown, a character who is the butt of the stage crew’s jokes with even the tele-prompter getting in on the act. But ultimately, it’s not a smart parody, it’s just painful.
Sorry, Rory Fairbairn – you do your best, but it’s not funny, and with each iteration it becomes a bit more tedious. Were the front row audience participants primed for their contributions? If they weren’t (and even if they were), they did very well. This sequence overplays its hand – Brian/Mickey (Daniel Anthony) had good comic timing, but the fact that after his first appearance we knew what he was going to say or do was not in itself comical.
The statuesque Valerie Cutko certainly makes her mark as Eugenia. Tall, elegant and with a great singing voice, she is impressive – it’s a pity her part, though important, is cut off in its prime.
All that said, the little boy next to me loved every minute, gasped at the tricks and laughed a lot. So did many other people. It’s clearly a family-pleasing show so perhaps I should just put my grumpy old woman persona back in a box and disappear.
Magic Goes Wrong is at Bath Theatre Royal until 21st November.
Pictured: Valerie Cutko as Eugenia; Pamela Raith Photography.