You wouldn’t expect it from someone with a face so young, but the moment Tomas McCabe steps on stage, he radiates a sense of authority. Maybe it’s just the lab coat, but McCabe’s energy and articulation immediately set the expectation that The Mind Reading Experiments is going to be a captivating show – and it does not disappoint.
The Mind Reading Experiments is both a historical exploration and a magic show, cloaked in the wonder of “obviously he can’t actually read our minds…but what if he can?” McCabe brings his audience into the 19th century spiritualism craze, where psychical abilities were tested and debated both in private, spiritual spheres and in scientific and intellectual ones. Key to his show are the Creery sisters, a group of five girls who claimed to have psychic powers, and the experiments that were done on them by scientists of the time to determine just how true that might be. But this show is not just about the past, it’s about today’s spectators too. McCabe claims that he’s going to teach us all how lies are discovered, minds are read, and much more. He bounces between different ways our minds work, from how we present body language that gives our true intentions away when trying to lie, to how propaganda and technology work on us. A glimpse inside the magic of the mentalists, we think, but McCabes’s skills prove far beyond any audience member’s powers of comprehension, and even when doing their best to catch him out, McCabe proves that he’s the smartest one in the room – or at least the most extrasensory.
McCabe mentions dropping out of school to follow the subjects that truly interested him, but it is clear that despite that, he certainly knows how to study. The Mind Reading Experiments is put together with by-the-book magic show perfection, from the overarching theme to the quick and neat cycling through audience participants. It is, if anything, a little too perfect, a little too perfunctory. At times audience members are brought onstage to do a quick task, be set dressing for a moment while McCabe provides framework for the next bit, and dismissed. This seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, because McCabe truly shines when he banters freely with his audience members, or is faced with a participant so excited to engage that they carve a bit of the show for themselves. McCabe is better at improvising than he thinks he is. Similarly, one simple but striking moment is his method of collecting slips of paper from the crowd – it’s unexpected, funny, and lightens the mood. McCabe is already head of the class when it comes to a well-constructed magic show, but once he feels the comfort to be more creative, he will be unstoppable.
The Mind Reading Experiments is a cleverly wrought and enjoyable magic experience. You may not come out of it with a lot more information about psychical abilities than you may have already known, as your teacher has no intention in letting his students outsmart him, but really you wouldn’t want to. Tomas McCabe makes it more fun to be baffled than you could ever have imagined.