The Noel Coward Theatre,
Reviewed by Quentin Reynolds
Not having seen any of the recent illusion shows in London or on tour, and having heard mixed reviews from people I know, I went to see Impossible which is now in its last days of a seven week run.
Being a Tuesday night, I was surprised at the size of the house, not packed but very full with a family audience.
Before the show announcements are made, by Chris Cox, for people to fill in a card with things they want him to do, pop the card in an envelope, and post those in a box on stage.
The show opened on time with the escape from the spiked table where the spikes are set on fire, Josephine Lee, having been strapped to the table, the sheet is pulled in front of her and with lighted back projection we see her trying to free herself before the spikes drop. They do. Is she dead? No, the cover pulled back and she is sitting on top of the spikes. Performed very quickly, no mention of the performer and I think the audience, with a moment's reflection would figure out a method.
Straight into Ben Hart telling a story about a trick performed in the Monsoon season in India (the Diminishing Cards). He tells what happens in the trick and then performs the trick using a regular playing card to emphasise each change. The cards transform to dust at the end, one of the few moments in the show where the audience’s surprised reactions could be felt.
(It's an interesting concept - fully describing the exact effect before performing it, and worth exploring).
Ben walks upstage to be covered by a large circular red certain which comes down and when it is later raised we find Jonathan Goodwin’s Bed of Nails. Of all the performers Jonathan has the best and most convincing speaking voice. He invites a lady up from the audience and she is invited to sit on the bed of nails. The main bed is lifted away leaving just one long and menacing nail protruding upwards. Jonathan lies back on it, has a block placed on it and it’s smashed in two with a sledge hammer.
When Jonathan comes on he is wearing a large watch on his right wrist. I don’t know why. Every time he moves his arm it catches the spotlight and reflects on the backdrop. At first I thought there were moths flying. It’s distracting.
Magical Bones next, a rapping, breakdancing street magician. A lady is invited up and seated at a table stage right. A £20 note is borrowed from a man in the audience which, after the lady writes down its serial number, is torn up and burnt with amusing tongue-in-cheek patter. The lady writes her name across a chosen card which is shuffled back, the cards sprung into the air, Magical does a backflip and amongst all the cascading cards catches the chosen one. He then removes from his jacket a full champagne glass which he drinks. Maybe I imagined it but I thought there was a round object in the glass, like a lime. I thought, “The £20 not will be in the lime.” But I was wrong. It was found in a Crunchie that was in a box on the table. It would have been far better theatrically if it was found in the lime.
Incidentally Bones also wore a watch that kept catching in the spotlight. I’d also like to see him do a bit more breakdancing.
Jonathan Goodwin comes on next to host the Water Tank Escape. Frankly there are far too many references to Houdini in this show. Josephine Lee is wearing a miniature camera so that we can see what’s happening in the tank, along with a camera that is in the bottom of the tank. However once the tank is covered, and the way the projection screen is done, I don’t think anyone believes that what we are seeing is actually what is happening. After Josephine hasn’t made her escape, the curtain is pulled back revealing an empty tank and Josephine appears from the back of the theatre.
Next Chris Cox whose stage persona is a nerdy superhero who has been ingesting far too many e-numbers. His ability is to pick up on the thoughts of people by touching them directly or indirectly. His character is consistent throughout and he does a very entertaining piece where he duplicates the same outfit as selected by a lady from the audience. It’s not easy making mentalism visual and colourful and he succeeds at both.
Back to Ben Hart, finishing the first half dressed as a Victorian sideshow barker with long Sherlock style coat and carrying a cane, which really suited the character he was playing - which he plays with gusto. A paper aeroplane is thrown out to find a random audience member resulting in a lady being invited on stage to take part in a transportation illusion. I’d seen this on the ONE TV show and it looks terrific. The set looks intriguing with two large cylindrical looking birdcages and lots of Telsa looking electrical equipment. The lady is put into one cage and is transported into the other. However as she is exiting from the cage there is a bang, something ‘apparently’ has gone wrong, there is a blackout and the curtain drops for the interval. There is one word to describe this ending to the first half. ‘dreadful’. What should have been a thrilling and magical finish with a potential standing ovation is killed. Ben, who did a great job doesn’t get to take any applause. I suspect the producers were trying to mimic the Paul Daniels Iron Maiden finish that he did on live TV. Well, if so, they shouldn’t. A much better finish would be Ben producing a rose, giving it to the lady and then standing solo in just a spotlight and I'm pretty sure he would have gotten a SO.
The second half opens with Chris Cox doing the sealed message reading routine using the sealed envelopes that had been placed in the box. Cameras are used to film the reactions of audience members, who are also handed a microphone. I’ve done a Q&A routine myself and know the most important thing is the revelation of information in a way that keeps everyone interested. Chris does this exceptionally well and it was a highlight of the show. Superbly executed. Annemann would have been proud..
Sabine Van Diemen has a man and woman up on stage and proceeds to perform a version of the Selbit Sawing, except now it is man to be sawn and she uses the cameraman from the show, who unlike the rest of the stage crew (all in black) is dressed in blue jeans and a beige sweater. She plays the part as a dominatrix getting revenge for all the years females have been sawn. She did a great job but the routine did not get the gasps it should have done. More on that in a minute.
The set now changes to what appears to be an old silent movie starring Ben Hart performing the Billiard Balls. Ben appears to emerge from the movie but you are still left with the feeling he is still in it and performs a billiard ball routine. The whole piece felt like I was watching Marcel Marceau. The whole idea and setting was delightful.
Escaping upside down for a strait jacket isn’t new but the performer being set on fire while escaping is. Visually it looked amazing but the problem is the performer has to get out very quickly, so this was the shortest escape I’ve seen which does tend to diminish it’s effectiveness. The alternative is a crisp performer.
Each seat in the house had an envelope with four pieces of paper, each of which had the poster of a famous magician. We’re in to the Woody Aragon routine where pieces are torn, mixed, thrown away and with two eventually matching. While Magical Bones did it well, there wasn’t the reaction at the end you would expect. It is more like, “Oh, OK.”
Josephine Lee returns where there is one of those props that look like a Ferris wheel with a partition in the middle and she vanishes from one side and appears on the other. Both Sabine and Josephine were refreshing additions to the otherwise all male cast but it is a pity both were doing illusions. Romany would have been an excellent choice for one of the female roles adding colour, charm and comedy.
Recent Britain’s Got Talent winner, Richard Jones, was, I presume, added to the bill as a box office attraction. How would he hold up against the other six, considerably more experienced performers? The answer is, very well indeed. His style is both quiet and engaging, contrasting well with the rest of the show. He does three routines, the first, Percy Naldrett’s Phantom Artist, cutting out the face of a celebrity chosen by an audience member. In this case it was The Queen. A boy is invited up and seated. Richard does a card printing routine where the deck transforms into Perspex cards in the boy’s hands in a puff of smoke. Richard’s banter with the boy was engaging and funny. He finished with a T&R poster (poster of the show) talking about his dream of being a magician and that nothing is impossible. I’ve seen American performers do this kind of thing and it normally comes over as schmaltzy bullshit. In this case it came over with sincerity.
Jonathan Goodwin comes back with his crossbow act shooting arrows into balloons, through the stem of a flower and the edge of a sheet of newspaper, then while blindfolded bursting a balloon on his wife’s head. The frame into which the arrows landed is turned around only to find another female assistant inside and we see the arrows landed around her head.
The final spot is a laser act in almost complete darkness. I’m not sure which of the female performers was doing this spot and at one time she levitated but I’m not sure the audience even noticed.
The show concluded with the performers coming on and taking disciplined bows.
Overall the audience well got their money’s worth. The show including the interval lasted just over two and a half hours. The stage crew did a great job with all the set changes, and on the ball to collect an extending stick used by Chris Cox. Musical effects were added where needed and with spot on timing.
However the show badly needs a director who understands magic. Many of the climaxes of effects were killed by lack of pointing and timing. Performers not being given the opportunity to take their applause, and occasionally not knowing how to take the applause.
© Quentin Reynolds, August 2016