Age of Illusion [by James Wenley]
The Avengers of Magic are back in Auckland, and they’re changing their line-up faster than the continuity of a Marvel comic book. Charming trickster and watch thief Jeff Hobson is the sole returnee from The Illusionists’ original line-up. This time he’s joined by magicians with names like ‘The Unusualist’, ‘The Deceptionist’, and ‘The Illusionist’ with powers including “unusual optical illusion”, “technology illusion”, “card manipulation”, “the impossible”, and of course, “death defying stunts”.
Conspicuously missing from this new line-up are any female magicians, the show’s most unfortunate disappearing act. Instead, the show’s two women are relegated to cheesy back-up dancers, along with two men, whose moves misdirect our attention more than is probably intended. For a show that bills itself as the future of magic, the gender imbalance is not a promising portent.
In 2.0 the show’s creators have honed their formula into a tighter package, with the added gimmick of 3D glasses. Supremely gimmicky, they use a live 3D camera linked to an overhead screen to heighten close-up tricks that would be otherwise lost to those seated further back in the Civic. Necessary? No. But it’s certainly fun, and used sparingly enough so as not to induce headache.
Luis De Matos, The Master Magician, is the group’s Tony Stark and the show’s most visible presence. Everything, he tells us, is “very important”. He leads the entire audience through our very own magic involving the content of a “do not open” envelope that we collect at the start of the show.
Deceptionist James More’s death cheating stunts don’t quite live up to his Britain’s Got Talent hype. The acts – a blade impaled through his torso, fire dropping down over him – are over quickly, and don’t successfully invest the stakes with any level of danger.
It is Aaron Crow’s silent and swift The Warrior, then, that gets our blood pressure rising, courtesy of the freaked out audience volunteers on stage. The look on one volunteer’s face, who was holding a pineapple over her head, as it dawned on her what the warrior was about to attempt to do, was priceless (thank goodness that’s not me, the audience seemed to think as one). With a samurai sword ready to go, Crow had his eyes covered with candle wax, duct tape, and other measures.
Hobson’s Trickster was more of a cameo in this version, with less room to create magical mischief. His take on the egg and bag trick was a re-tread from Illusionists 1.0, so those who saw the first version would come away disappointed.
Raymond Crowe’s The Unusualist was a quirky favourite, peppering his act with deadpan expression and silly-voiced ventriloquism at the wilful expense of his audience volunteers.
Adam Trent’s Zac Efron persona as The Futurist lends an easy-going charm to his appearances, including some inventive choreography between himself and digital selves. He was one of several magicians on the night to up the cute factor by asking for children for volunteers, much to their delight. Parents, this is an excellent show to take the kids too.
Against the show’s bass-thumping sound, rotating lights, and 3D graphics, it was once again the intimate, smaller moments that stood out. The Manipulator’s Yu Ho-Jin, has an amazing backstory, and his dexterous card dance was spellbinding, making deck of cards disappear, reappear, and change colour with ease. Combined with a classical piano track and Ho-Jin’s care and skill, this was the most beautiful, transcendent act of the night, and the one magician that we definitely wanted to see more of.
The Unusualist also provided a moment of beauty for the show’s climax, as he performed shadow puppetry to Louis Armstrong’s always spine-tingling song, What a Wonderful World. It’s was one trick that we knew exactly how it was performed, but it was no less magic.
For those seeing an Illusionist show for the first time, you’ll likely come away dazzled and impressed. For those that saw the first Illusionists, like me, and loved it, you may come away disappointed by the sequel. Though it doesn’t offer anything mind-bogglingly better than the first experience, it equals the moments of sheer awe and ‘how did they do it’ delight.
The Illusionists 2.0 plays at The Civic until 13 Sept. Details see Auckland Live.