‘Magic Goes Wrong’ review – Mischief Theatre and Penn and Teller’s spellbinding slapstick

Mischief Theatre may well be back to their old tricks again, but that’s not to say that they don’t have a few more up their sleeve in their latest outing – ★★★★

Mischief Theatre face their biggest challenge yet with Magic Goes Wrong. With a string of successful productions smashing the West End and the release of The Goes Wrong Show on BBC One, the slapstick theatre company could well have been running low on the unpredictability necessary to pull off an entertaining magic show – all without revealing some of the art form’s biggest secrets.

Fortunately, with help from veteran magicians Penn and Teller, the most extraordinary tricks are in safe hands with Mischief Theatre – and that alone defies belief. Even the select few which are revealed to us are ones we kind of knew the answer to already.

With both magic and comedy all about the subversion of expectations or logic, there are moments in Magic Goes Wrong where the two crash together in spectacular fashion. Magician Sophisticato (Henry Shields) is raising money for the charity Disasters in Magic (the irony in the name is not lost), following the death of his father, with a variety performance packed with different magicians. For a magic show which goes so wrong, some of its best surprises are when things go right.

Similarly, Mischief’s comedy works when it knows the limits of a gag and breaks free from the chains of predictability. With an increasingly unnerved Sophisticato checking in on each act as the night goes on, the likelihood for running jokes feeling overused (such as a faulty door in a vanishing act routine, which is deployed twice in the show) is high.

While phoney psychic The Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis) struggles with an amusing ineptitude, but the over-reliance on a stooge gag lacks the development needed to keep it fresh – not to mention the faulty/delayed soundboard routine which sadly feels all too familiar.

Meanwhile, adrenaline junkie ‘The Blade’ (Dave Hearn), an incredibly daring and absurdist parody of the likes of Criss Angel and David Blaine, is one of the more entertaining pastiches, sustaining a growing number of injuries in pursuit of danger. The standout performance, however, comes from Shields, with one joke soundtracked by The Carpenters being a strong favourite for its poignant tragedy underneath the hilarious farce.

For the devout magic fans, Penn and Teller’s involvement in the script is certainly apparent, and a treat in itself when spotted – from that particular kind of shock factor to their scepticism. While the variety has its flaws, Magic Goes Wrong, both in terms of humour and trickery, certainly has a lot to offer.

Magic Goes Wrong is now playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 31 May.

Production Images: Robert Day.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Magic Goes Wrong for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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