Like the song says, ‘Forget your troubles, come on get happy’, and there’s nothing like a group of fledgling magicians, light-hearted humour and a New Orleans jazz band on a West End stage to ‘chase all your cares away’. Unbelievable is such a show.
Directed and written by Derren Brown, Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, Unbelievable is a co-production with the Mercury Theatre Colchester, where the show premiered in August 2023. And what a rollicking interpretation it is of illusion and laugh-producing skullduggery, mostly dependent on the courage of audience volunteers who agree to be part of its tomfoolery-type magic, even if the laugh is on them.
Unbelievable does not produce the mind-bending illusions you’d expect if Derren Brown were present, but somehow it doesn’t matter, even if the magic is sometimes ropey, because the performers are all superb, use audience participation so effectively it all feels like a family affair, and tell jokes so corny they’re worthy of 19th-century music hall. By the end of the first act, I couldn’t stop laughing. But its delicious sense of frolic is set way before the play begins.
It actually commences upon entering the Criterion Theatre lobby, where I’m aware of some ticket holders being asked to write their names on playing cards, handed a thermos bottle to fill with water, or quizzed about their ‘favourite alcoholic beverage’. What is going on here?
However, the thought doesn’t linger because, as we take our seats, there’s a quartet of fine jazz musicians onstage to greet us. And as New Orleans rhythms take hold of my senses, an audience member sitting next to me is being asked by a theatre usher to surrender her engagement ring. What? Not everyone is who they appear to be and this is one of the many surprises yet to come.
One of them being Hannah Price’s amazing performance as mentalist and concert pianist. Audience members who’ve been randomly selected are asked to hold the melody of their favourite song in their heads and stand behind Hannah as she strikes random chords on piano keys.
I won’t reveal the result of this illusion – or any of the other magic feats – but it’s one of the highlights of Unbelievable, all hypnotically held together by actor magician Simon Lipkin who is ringmaster of this tuneful extravaganza.
But it must be said the success of Unbelievable would not be possible if it relied only on magic.
It becomes such an enjoyable caper not only because of its actors, but because of its audience volunteers – who were all terrific – its spirit-lifting music (Charlie O’Connor), its sound effects (Nicola T Chang, Mark Cornwell), and its video screens (Simon Wainwright) which give the audience a look in on how some of the tricks are being performed on stage.
So, Derren Brown has learned his most powerful and enjoyable illusion is to not show up at all.
Unbelievable is fun for all and all for fun, so make your way down to the Criterion Theatre to chase all your cares away.
Review by Loretta Monaco
UNBELIEVABLE features a live band and a magic company of multi-talented performers with extraordinary gifts who bring to life, on stage, an evening of trickery that will leave audiences amazed.
The audience will become an essential element of the show from the moment they set foot in the theatre – the beating heart of the production. No two performances will be the same.
Created, written and directed by UK stage and screen phenomenon Derren Brown, and long-time collaborators Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor. After decades of appearing on stage solo, this will be the first time that one of Derren’s shows will be performed by a cast rather than himself.
Laura Andresen Guimarães (Cast/Musician)
Izalni Batista Nascimento Junior (Cast/Musician)
Alexander Bean (Cast/Musician)
Samuel Creasey (Cast)
Simon Lipkin (Cast)
Yolanda Ovide (Cast)
Hannah Price (Cast/Musician)
Samuel Brenton (Understudy)
Emily Redlaff (Understudy)
Rhys Shone (Understudy)
LONDON WEST END OPENING:
Criterion Theatre, 218 – 223 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London, W1J 9HR
19 September 2023 to 07 April 2024 (Previews are 19-24 September)
Age Recommendation: 9+