Stage Mentalism

THE ILLUSIONISTS

☆☆☆☆

The Illusionists claim to be the “largest touring show in magic history anywhere,” but it is not just in size that they dominate the stage magic world. This show features a broad breadth of magic sub-fields, ensuring that no matter what style sparks your interest, there’s something spectacular for you at this performance.

The magical emcee of the Illusionists is Jeff Hobson, whose showmanship is the greatest boon to the performance as a whole. This comedy magician has a grandiose, flamboyant persona and wickedly slick wit, with a clever crack at the ready no matter what his volunteers or the audience do. Not only are the jokes fast but his hands as well, and in one memorable case, his tongue.

Attending a magic show, an audience expects to see some things they can’t explain. But having the thoughts plucked right out of their minds has it’s own special shock value. This illusion is delivered by Colin Cloud. Billed as ‘the Deductionist,’ the comparisons to Sherlock Holmes are blatant. Funnier than Benedict Cumberbatch and more dapper than Jeremy Brett, Cloud’s astute predictions are both impressive and terrifying.

Andrew Basso is  ‘The Escapologist’, and recreates one of Houdini’s greatest feats, the Water Torture Cell. Although, if the reaction of the ladies in the audience is any indication, he’s a bit more fit than his inspiration. It’s a bonus for them that the cell walls are clear, so we can see exactly how Basso expertly breaks out of his bonds, even under the intense pressure of holding his breath for several minutes.

Anti- Conjurer Dan Sperry strikes an attitude contrast to his peers, with no geniality to offer Sperry instead has a sullen menace that pairs appropriately with his wince-worthy tricks. No matter how desperate you are to see what’s going down, it takes a brave soul to peek through their fingers at this grotesque magic.

Rounding out the cast are ‘The Inventor’ Kevin James, with dramatic displays of craftily constructed magic, ‘The Manipulator’ Halim An with a beautifully choreographed sleight of hand, and ‘The Daredevil’ Jonathan Goodwin with heart-stoppingly stressful stunts that are also much to the credit of his assistants.

It is perhaps not a straight-forward compliment to say that the Illusionists are like magical hors d’oeuvres. Delivering short performances in rapid- fire, you never exactly feel like you’ve gotten the meat of the magic show, or like you’ve gotten to see each individual magician at their best. Just when you get attached to one flavor of magic, you’re two conjurers later. But there is an undeniable benefit to this recipe, that even if one magician isn’t to your taste, you get at least three more that are. Food metaphors aside, because they’re getting labored, The Illusionists is the perfect magic show to make you realize that you do actually like magic shows.

March 29, Heymann Performing Arts Center, Lafayette LA.

More information about the Illusionists and further dates of their tour can be found here.

 

COLIN CLOUD: THE FORENSIC MIND READER (2)

☆☆☆☆☆

Any act that incorporates Sherlock Holmes will always have my automatic affection. But the effortless ease with which Mr Cloud incorporated his fascination with the character is spectacular on it’s own merits.

One challenge of the Fringe is that which room you are in definitely sets the tone for your show. And some of the Fringe venues are a little bit shoddy, or even nice but unintended for the purposes they’re now being used for. I got that impression off the Just the Tonic room that Mr Cloud’s show was in. However, his minor additions manged both to blend with the initial surroundings and, for lack of a better phrase, “class the place up a bit.” The tightly packed audience (sold out!) combined with the backdrop, gave off the sensation that you could, in fact, have been transported back to the Victorian era, and found yourself in the fictional detective’s sitting room- both dubious but undeniably curious at what secrets you were wearing in your facial expressions that he would see right through to.

And as if straight from the pages of one of these stories, Mr Cloud delivered his astonishing skill. The audience was repeatedly stunned at the ability he had to seemingly pick thoughts right out of his participants heads- the word from a favorite childhood book, a random number they had only then decided upon themselves, an image chosen from countless possibilities recreated right in front of their eyes. All done with a practiced air of charm and just a little bit of impatient disdain for participants who had trouble following simple directions. After all, nothing could be more Sherlockian. His showmanship was thoroughly on point, softening the adopted affect of superior wisdom by sharing his audience’s enthusiasm.

For a tone so steeped in the air of mystery, Mr Cloud does not pretend to be psychic. Rather, he is upfront about the psychological background of the techniques he uses. He perhaps leaves out mentions of old-school mentalist trickery employed, but we are all here to be entertained. There is a certain thrill to being left bewildered, and Mr Cloud knows where to draw the line between explaining how he’s reading participants lies and leaving bits up the the audience’s baffled imaginations. The combination between his skill at mentalism and his clever wit and showmanship make The Forensic Mind Reader a brilliant and utterly enjoyable experience.

The last three days of Colin Cloud’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe run at Just the Tonic are currently completely sold out, but you may be able to snatch up returns a couple hours before the performances at 5:55pm.

+ Extra note: I have seen this show before, during the Edinburgh Magic Festival. But this review is purely on the merits of the Fringe performance on August 20th.

 

ALEX THE MIND READER

☆☆☆☆

(It is so inherently frustrating to my sense of order that this dude didn’t use a colon in his show title like almost literally everyone else does that I want to add one in for the title of this review anyway. Alex: The Mind Reader. Or, alternatively, Alex: the Impressively Adept at Dealing With Claustrophobic Environments).

Picture a mentalist in your mind. Unless your expectation has been tainted with the visage of Derren Brown or perhaps Simon Baker, you probably will summon up an image at least a little like Alex. Dashing in a dramatic mustache, I would have known the man walking past our queue was the mind reader even if he hadn’t put his face on the flyers.

The start of the show was a bit slow, people shuffling into their places in the compact little room, and then filling out the little slips of information that Alex would attempt to glean from us. But everyone was excited right from the start, and that was a really positive way to start a show.

And straight from the start, Alex amazed. He received gasps and applause from his apparent ability to read faces and minds and even pass his ability onto unsuspecting audience members. But one of the best elements tying the entire act together was his wit. Alex thoroughly commanded the room, despite obvious discomfort of the overwarm venue.

Alex the Mind Reader is a genuinely brilliant show, and I think Alex could easily have filled a much larger theater. But he certainty didn’t let the small size diminish the sense of wonder that his show created.

You can see Alex the Mind Reader at 1:30pm at Laughing Horse @ The Counting House on August 21st and 22nd.  

+Extra note- So, after I saw this show I decided I had to drag my friend along for the performance the next day. We were there half an hour and started a queue of people before I realized it wasn’t even on that day. We were so embarrassed we ran off without mentioning this to the other people who had lined up- on my recommendation of the show #sorrynotsorry

NEIL HENRY’S IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Note to all magicians: if you do a joke trick with a fake bunny at the beginning of your set, don’t leave it on stage. People will be distracted the entire time wondering if that bunny is going to become switched for a real one. Gotta say I’m a little disappointed.

Bunnies aside, Neil Henry presented an excellent show. His tricks were magic classics, but done with such skill and ease that even someone looking in all the right places wouldn’t see how they were being fooled. Even when presented with the challenge of easily confused audience participants, Mr Henry maintained his funny patter and kept his crowd laughing.

A particularly great moment of the show was the finale, at which point Mr Henry created legitimate concern and tension with his crowning act. Even though audiences who come to magic shows generally know that the magician has their show under control and probably won’t be harmed, Mr Henry’s last trick had people looking away and wincing- but definitely peeking through their hands.

This skillful control of the atmosphere showed the masterful showmanship Mr Henry had created even with his somewhat goofy persona, and certainty had audience members hissing ‘impossible’ afterwards as they squinted and poked at the cards onstage.

Neil Henry’s Impossible is on at Pleasance Courtyard at 3:50pm until August 25th.

RENZ NOVANI: SPELLBINDER- MAGIC AND MYSTORY

☆☆☆☆

I’m not a mentalist (yet?) When I sat down at the beginning of Renz Novani’s show, I made a prediction. That prediction was that for his review I would be writing on this blog: “well, maybe Renz Novani is a good magician, but I can’t tell because I can’t see a goddamned thing except for the hair of the lady in front of me.” But like I said, I’m not a mentalist.

The room was tiny. Everyone was squashed together, and the rows of seats were only at two levels. The “stage” started right where the “audience” stopped, and it was tiny itself. But what could have been suffocating actually worked for the show.

Mr Novani’s affect was flawless for the space, and for his material. He didn’t try to be overtly theatrical, a choice that by making him seem bigger would have made the space feel even smaller. Instead, his show was like a conversation. We were visitors at Mr Novani’s, and he a kind host. And like any good host, he exuded sincerity, and seemed to connect deeply with his audience.

I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog that I as a rule don’t go onstage or interact in the acts I see. Well, I broke that rule last night. I didn’t plan on it, but the room was so small, I couldn’t exactly hide. And when I was picked, I just went with it. I was initially worried that my preexisting obsession with mentalism and fascination with the exact things he was doing would mess the show up because I was thinking so much, so I guess it’s a blessing that when I’m in front of crowds I lose the ability to think. I won’t go into too much detail about the trick itself, but all I can say is that I was amazed by his talent. At so many points I was tiny slivers of a whim away from making wholly different choices, and yet the trick worked- the prediction that Mr Novani had secured, earlier, with another audience member, was right. Because of choices that I made and numbers that the audience picked.This ability wasn’t limited to but one trick, either. He again and again left members of the audience dumbfounded with his mentalist ability and readings of their deepest wishes.

He genuinely had astonishing talent, and at the same time expertly presented his material in a manner that made a grim little room cozy and captivating. Combined with a brilliant finish, Mr Novani’s show really does leave you feeling weightless.

Renz Novani’s Fringe show is at Spotlights at Merchants Hall, at 8:40 pm until August 25th.

+Extra note: I left this show a little stunned, and not just because of residual nervous energy from being onstage. Of all the magicians that I’ve seen as of late, his particular talents were exactly everything I’ve ever wanted to study, understand, be. The beautiful mixture of clever tricks, calming but firm stage presence, and a deep understanding of and ability to work with human psychology is exactly what captivated me about this world in the first place. His ability to imbibe it with a sense of enchantment struck me on a deeply personal level. Also, I want to steal all his books. (No but seriously. In the off chance you ever see this blog, Mr Novani, can you comment on here the title of the mentalism book that was on your table?)

COLIN CLOUD: THE FORENSIC MIND READER

☆☆☆☆☆

The musical interludes of Colin Cloud’s Edinburgh International Magic Festival show were borrowed directly from modern adaptions of Sherlock Holmes, something I remarked to my friend “is that even legal?” I’m sure it is in actuality, and what they prove is something the mentalist made no attempt to hide- he is obsessed with the fictional detective. However, something Mr. Cloud has mastered that that particular character would be utterly uninterested in was a masterful sense of showmanship. This, combined with his skill-homage to the detective, is the strength and power of his show.

But let’s take a step back. When the friend and I finally found our venue, 45 minutes early and flustered, the lobby was near empty. Which means that Mr Cloud, who was waiting there for audience members to arrive, approached us immediately. He presents himself as a very charming, sincere man. The ascetic people expect of those in his profession is not lost on him- his clothing choices were on point and stylish, but with just enough hair flair to say ‘I’m an individual’. (Hey, this isn’t a criticism. Always appreciate some hair flair. Everyone needs a trademark.) He introduced himself, and asked us to write some information on a sticky note that was on his clipboard- Full name, post (or in our heavily- American accented cases, zip code), where we worked or if we had a pet and it’s type and name, and a question and answer. All these were to be things he couldn’t find out through internet stalking and would be impressed if he knew. Keep this in mind- this is important. We then were instructed to keep our sticky notes.

The show itself was impressive, to say the least. The venue was small, but the seats were well filled, and Mr. Cloud knew how to utilize the space. One of the key things that I notice is not people who know the mental capabilities of their role well, but who have the necessary showmanship. And charisma was a strength in this case. Mr. Cloud captured his audience with humor, which carried him through any incorrect guesses or uncertainties in his routine. In fact the only problem I had with his set was due to his comedic attempts. Someone much teach, in Comedy 101, that sexist jokes will always work, because male audiences will always laugh if you say all women are good liars (twice. fucking twice), and the women are conditioned just to take it. I don’t blame Mr. Cloud as an individual for this- it’s a comedy staple. (I blame society, but that’s just the ranty feminist in me. I digress). This just seemed particularly out of place because perhaps a small majority of the audience members were women.

But back to what you’re here for. The mentalist acts included things like predicting the card a random audience member would choose, the ‘simple picture’ an audience member would draw, and the words on a page of a book audience members would pick. He knew the amount of money in another random audience member’s wallet, and could take the numbers that about five different people randomly thought up and multiply them to be the exact date and time as when he announced this feat. He also played a game in which he could guess which color button an audience member had hidden in his hand, and then which hand it was in. This involved having the participant in question imagine, essentially, murdering a popular celebrity in a vacation destination with a dubiously effective weapon. (You pretty much just have to see this for yourself, folks.)

At one point towards the end, Mr. Cloud has the lights turned off, with two audience members sitting next to him. holding his wrists to ensure he didn’t move from his spot. Then, he had the audience call out things, which he would focus in on. I was fortunate enough to be amongst his choices. When Mr. Cloud had us shout out our initials, he zeroed in on mine. He asked the person whose they were to make ourselves known, but there were two of us with those initials, so he said the person with the ‘foreign sounding name’. This is pretty funny in that perhaps to native Brits, my German- sounding name is noticeable. But I’m from the US. 80% of names sound foreign- it’s not really something you notice. But okay, he remembered the name itself. Things moved along. He then attempted to determine where I was from, and he was close! Very close, which I told him. He wanted to know how close, which was problematic, as I am incapable of estimating distances, even ones I’ve traveled thousands of times. Now, I don’t know if Mr. Cloud was intentionally wrong so that he could get the correct answer later and I thwarted that by not knowing that Torrance is aprox. 10 miles from Palos Verdes or if he simply didn’t know- something I’m getting to. He also correctly determined I have a cat named Fae and wondered what to do with my life- whether I should join the Navy.

All of the information leading up to this could be found on my facebook, if you really cared to look. I’ve done more in-depth fb stalking than that. However, I’ve only discussed my intentions towards the Navy with 3 people, and in private settings. So yep, pretty amazing.

 

Colin Cloud- talented mentalist, fantastic theatricality and rapport with audience. GO SEE THE SHOW. http://colincloud.com/

Mentalist abilities: 4/5

Showmanship: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5