Last week, when the world seemed a very different place and people still went to the theatre, I saw ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ at the Vaudeville on the Strand. I know people who know people who advised the show on its magical content, so I was confident that I would enjoy the evening but I didn’t know what to expect.
What I got was a very traditional evening of magic, but things did often go a bit wrong. Or very wrong.
If you’ve already read Dark Magic you will have some idea what’s going on. If you haven’t, let me explain …
The show that you get in ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ is supposed to be a benefit for a charity set up to benefit the victims of magical accidents. There are some famous real-life magical accidents. The bullet catch trick (and, yes, that does feature in Dark Magic) is supposed to have claimed several fatalities, most famously the Chinese Magician Chung Ling Soo (in fact an American called William Ellsworth Robinson). Chung Ling Soo was shot dead on stage at the Wood Green Empire in London in 1918.
Roy Horn (of Siegfried & Roy) was almost killed by a tiger in his Las Vegas act in 2003, ending his career. Houdini collapsed on stage after a student visiting his dressing room had hit him several times in the abdomen, something that Houdini could cope with when he was prepared in his act but was unable to survive when taken by surprise. (The student had had no ill-intent but hadn’t realised that Houdini needed to brace himself for the blow.)
Most magic shows, though, pass without incident. Even in the cursed world of Dark Magic there is never a performance with multiple fatalities. ‘Magic Goes Wrong’, on the other hand, starts with the unfortunate demise of a pigeon and builds up to a truly impressive body count. I didn’t believe the trigger warning that starts the evening and which warns of a live bear. I should have. And the people the bear (inevitably) savages should have taken it more seriously too.
‘Magic Goes Wrong’ hasn’t a serious or meaningful bone in its twisted body. (Speaking of which, the contortionist act is a minor highlight.) It is, however, consistently hilarious. It also features some impressive real magic – much of which goes unremarked by an audience far too caught up in the comedy to realise that they really are watching things that should be impossible. Penn & Teller have contributed an escape from a sealed water tank which I have seen them perform as a major trick in their stage show. Here the magician apparently drowning on stage is easily ignored while your attention is fixed on the antics of cast, crew and unfortunate audience volunteer as they combine to doom the poor man to a watery death. People vanish and reappear, girls are cut in half, and men in small boxes are pierced through with spears. All you are concentrating on, though, is the magician’s assistant opening the door of a vanishing cabinet before the magician has left it, the stage set that closes just a few seconds earlier than it needs to, or the sound effect that comes on at all the most inappropriate moments.
I was going to recommend that you all buy tickets but, of course, you can’t go to see it now. With any luck it will be back on once the present crisis has passed. It’s something to look forward to.
Meanwhile, if you want comedy based on a magic show with an unfeasibly high body count, you could read Dark Magic. It’s escapist fun and we all need that right now. It may be hard to get hold of the paperback as Amazon concentrates on delivering more important things, but you can still buy it on Kindle. It’s just £1.99 and will take your mind off things for a day.