Wednesday 27th April 2022 at York Theatre Royal
The Olivier Award-winning Mischief Theatre Company have a growing number of hits on their hands, from The Play That Goes Wrong to Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About the Bank Robbery, they’ve given us some fantastic entertainment over recent years. Magic Goes Wrong, with the famous magic legends Penn and Teller as co-creators, includes a dose of Mischief magic but overall it feels quite tame compared to its sister shows.
Magic Goes Wrong, directed by Adam Meggido, takes us to a fundraiser for those who have been injured in magic shows. Various entertainers are booked to perform and every last one of them is a dud of varying degrees of lovability. From an escaped bunny pre-curtain up to the last of the altercations between actor and curtain, the focus on carefree fun and farce is neatly front and centre. Will Bowen’s set design offers many of the classic sights we expect from a magic show as well as a striking backdrop (doubling nicely as a recurring gag of a malfunctioning sign).
The cast are great, carrying the material with purposeful energy and persevering when the audience don’t quite pick up on the cues laid out for them. Rory Fairbairn’s Mind Mangler is both a tragic human stress ball and an endearing dreamer who keeps chasing success he’s never going to catch. Sam Hill does well to gradually soften up the audience and handles the jilted son-of-a-magician-superstar storyline with a nice balance of wounded sadness and sneaky self-service. Kiefer Moriarty is a particularly fun influence as the danger-craving but accident prone jester type going by the name of The Blade, and along the way, Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum do a beautiful job of underscoring this parade of failures with magician’s assistant arm choreography and smiles which comically scream “how is this my life?”
As for the material – the co-creation of Mischief’s Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and the legendary duo Penn Jillette and Teller – it’s a mixed bag with some great moments. There are some superb, mind-bending moments, for sure – tricks are very well constructed, with various surprise disappearances and reappearances, the sawing the lady in half and the levitation sequences all being particularly impressive and thoroughly engaging.
But the gags, while well-delivered and child-friendly for the most part, are often too familiar, being staples of various inevitable sitcom episodes. The inventiveness of Mischief’s other shows feels missing from the in-between-tricks segments and I suspect this lands at the feet of the episodic nature of a show like this – the acts come and go, mostly independently of each other, and therefore that thrilling sense of building chaos and escalation to ultimate disaster doesn’t find a place within this narrative. Ultimately, the magical moments feel relatively sparse compared to the in-between fodder and a lot of the material rests on that revolving door of all-too-familiar tropes of shoddy entertainers.
Magic Goes Wrong is definitely entertaining and many will love it, but for me, it’s mildly amusing rather than hilarious. I may have smiled more than I laughed this time around, but I’m still a Mischief lifer!