The aesthetic atmosphere of the basement of Cabaret Voltaire is exactly what one would want and expect from a show that promises “spooky mind reading and Victorian spirit theatre.” Unfortunately, the dark, musty, and legitimately cobwebbed room is the only aspect in which Phantasmagorical excels.
Phantasmagorical is described in its’ Fringe listing as having magic and storytelling. And indeed it does have both. However, while it is possible to integrate these things well, Phantasmagorical does not do so. There is a story in Phantasmagorical. It is a stereotypical spooky Victorian story, with creepy dolls and a ghostly friend and an asylum. The story doesn’t come across as particularly well thought out, isn’t particularly compelling and has no dramatic tension or emotional payoff to speak of, but it exists. There is also magic in Phantasmagorical. It is not particularly well performed, but it is there. But even with these two elements definitely present, they only make each other worse by being clumsily forced together. The magic tricks do not integrate into the story well at all, they seem tangentially connected at best and distract from an already choppy plot. At times, it feels like the author and performer, Sylvia Sceptre, knew what she wanted in the storytelling and forced in the first trick she could think of that was sort of related. At other times, it seems she knew what trick she wanted to perform and forced the story to allow it to fit in, regardless of whether that would be an organic twist.
With Phantasmagorical already suffering from a clunky and fragmented concept, it’s also unfortunate that it was simply ill-performed. The storytelling was overacted with unnerving affect, Sceptre seemed unprepared to handle interacting with the audience, and there were several obvious flubs in the magic tricks that she didn’t recover from quickly. The whole event came across as painfully awkward and under-rehearsed.
There aren’t many female magicians at the Fringe, and it’s great to see one working on and developing a unique act with a decent concept. However, Phantasmagorical is in definite need of further development, both in content and in performance.