The West End in London is what Americans would call ‘downtown’. Whether organically or by deliberate marketing effort another, better name has arisen for the area around Shaftesbury Avenue: Theatreland. There’s such a concentration of theatres in this small area that in normal times you can take your pick from big-name musicals, serious dramas, or film adaptations featuring Hollywood stars looking to add theatrical cred to their resumé. But as Magic and Mind-Reading is happy to remind us, there’s another ‘centre of’ just off Shaftesbury Avenue, on Piccadilly. It’s the home of the Magic Circle, the club for (stage) magicians where famously no one will say how it’s done.
This show, in two halves, begins as a tribute to the golden days of stage magic, at the turn of the 20th Century. Tony Middleton (aka Sonic) shared some history and tricks, before inviting Edward Hilsum (British Champion of Magic and winner of the Magic Circle’s Stage Magician of the Year) to share a younger, more up to date set, showing where magic has reached a hundred years later.
We are seated, cabaret-style, in a stunning ballroom in the opulence of the Meridien Piccadilly, adequately spaced, temperature-checked and masked. It was great to be back in a theatre (of sorts). This being their first performance since the start of lockdown, neither performer had quite worked the hand sanitiser, which they required anyone joining them on stage to use, into their patter. I’d hope with practice they’ll find a way to incorporate this a little more seamlessly into their acts. Antibacterial gel is a kind of magic, right?
The show began by setting up a couple of ‘big illusions’ that they invited us to participate in as we entered the venue. Then it rolled into a gentle set, harking back to a time of parlour wizardry, complete with old tomes checked out of the magic library. Relaxed, this certainly was, but didn’t contain many real thrills for me, apart from an impressive teleportation trick, made more beguiling by the total astonishment of two assistants plucked from the audience, and a mindreading feat involving words plucked at random from books. The latter rather overshadowed, for me, the much more complexly set-up illusion we’d contributed to as we came in.
In fact, a few of these tricks were golden oldies, and in watching close-up, I finally understood how they were done. Which was fun in itself, but perhaps not what you’re after in a magic show.
Hilsum, on the other hand, had an act that focused on a personal journey. His tricks harked back to emotions that we as an audience could feel, rather than the prior deeds of a stuffy gang of dead white show-offs. He wasn’t afraid to use modern props, and involved the audience to challenge the mindless way we so often travel through the world outside the show. It felt relevant and up-to-date, and I think it was this that meant I felt in this set more like I was watching real, impressive displays, rather than a didactic survey of magic history.
In keeping with the first half, audience members were brought on stage to be dazzled. Their gasps were very much audible.
It is great to be back at the theatre at a moment where it feels touch and go whether they’ll all reopen soon or be shut again as the government pulls an unhappy rabbit out of the hat. This isn’t quite a stage show as you know it, and at times felt like it needed a little more polish to truly wow. But it was certainly worth a night out.
Review by Ben Ross
Magic & Mind-Reading runs weekly on Saturday nights at the 5 star Le Meridien Piccadilly from 19th September. Classic conjuring makes a come-back in this intimate theatrical experience that will leave you gasping in astonishment and cheering with delight. These new performances hark back to the parlour shows of Magic’s Golden Age, but our magicians will do the impossible right in front of your eyes without even touching you. Get in quick – there are only 30 seats per show.
Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes
Strictly limited to 30 seats.
Performances at 7pm & 9pm
Suitable for families (ages 10+)
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Location: Le Meridien Piccadilly W1J 0BH