August 29, 2019
The Illusionists has become something of a staple on London’s West End over the past six years, first appearing in London in 2013 for a limited run after its premiere in Australia the previous year, and subsequently appearing for six to eight week runs every twelve to eighteen months since. The seven magicians involved may change in each show, but the format remains largely the same – big illusions alongside impressive card feats; daring escapades followed by amazing feats of mentalism and true showmanship. It’s clearly popular with audiences but is it still fresh six years on?
The lineup for this year’s show at Shaftesbury Theatre, titled The Illusionists – Direct from Broadway, is one of the strongest yet seen. In no particular order we were treated to: Adam Trent (‘The Futurist’), Chris Cox (‘The Mentalist’), Enzo (‘The Unforgettable’), James More (‘The Showman’), Jonathan Goodwin (‘The Daredevil’), Paul Dabek (‘The Trickster’) and Yu Ho-Jin (‘The Manipulator’). If you are wondering what the names in brackets mean, they largely refer to their roles in the show – Yu Ho-Jin is a master of cards and sleights whilst Goodwin is, well, it’s fairly self-explanatory. Less obvious are names like ‘showman’ and ‘unforgettable’ – having seen the show we now know that this means you can expect some excellent large-scale illusions with impressive-looking containers, sheets of metal and numerous assistants to enhance the showmanship as transpositions occur.
In short, the entire show is a superb family evening out with a host of children absolutely enthralled throughout, whilst the gasps from the adults were just as audible. If there is a leading man amongst the ensemble, it is undoubtedly Dabek who comperes a large portion of the first half, welcomes everybody at the beginning and even performs a shadow show at the end. His various jokes and winning personality had the audience in stitches and his main moment – a magic trick that is at its heart a simple signed card trick – is pure theatre.
For those whom have come to magic through admiring ITVs Britain’s Got Talent, there’s a whole lot to enjoy with not one but two stars of the show appearing. James More impresses during his routine, delivering Copperfield-esque illusions so quickly that you may find yourself rubbing your eyes in disbelief. Goodwin meanwhile has a charisma that cannot be taught; his two daring feats are completely different to one another but just as hypnotic. To say any more would ruin it for those coming into the show blind, but rest assured your heart may skip more than one beat en route to the finale.
For fans of ‘pure’ magic, the manipulator Yu Hojin is presumably the main draw. Hailing from South Korea he is revered in magic circles for his skills with cards, even winning the equivalent of the Olympics – FISM – in 2012 at just 20 years old. You can see that routine here though we must say it’s even more mesmerising in person! He is such a skilled magic performer that we were in awe of his talent.
Enzo is a French magician who has the unenviable task of starting the show after the introductions. Thankfully, the tricks he goes for – a lightbulb appearing and disappearing at apparent will, followed by he himself vanishing and reappearing just as quickly – are hugely entertaining. His illusion is the second half is also pure showmanship. Meanwhile, Adam Trent is a likeable American magician who appears to use effects and lights to enhance his tricks. But his act actually goes deeper than that; telling evocative stories that add to the mystique. He appears adept at moving from one trick to another with ease and the way he closes the show is utterly beautiful.
Finally we come to Chris Cox the mentalist. He is in contrast to the other magicians; effecting a somewhat childish persona that the kids absolutely adored. At the performance we attended, he was undoubtedly the star as he impressed and amazed those in the stalls right up to the balcony with his apparent feats of mindreading. Somehow able to throw out names, addresses and even seemingly irrelevant details about the audience members’ lives, his set was a pure triumph and even led to half of the crowd giving a standing ovation as he took his bow.
It’s clear to see just why The Illusionists has been such a hit all over the world. Magic can be performed in many different ways and by providing a two hour show that brings all the different approaches together, it’s guaranteed to leave every observer impressed by at least something. Even the most grumpy theatregoer is sure to have something that they enjoy. From the jokes that only adults will get to the money thrown at such an extravaganza (a grand piano appears for all of 30 seconds in the first five minutes and is never seen again), The Illusionists is a must-see whenever it comes to town. The best bit? It’ll always be a different show depending on the roster of magicians so you can keep coming back for years!
The Illusionists is on until September 1st (so just a few days to go!) but do see it when it no doubt returns next year.
Our thanks must go to Paul Dabek for inviting us along. Very much appreciated!
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By Henry Fosdike