Review: Magic Goes Wrong (Vaudeville Theatre)

Mischief Theatre brings a mishap-laden magical show to the West End

Nancy Zamit, Dave Hearn and Bryony Corrigan
Nancy Zamit, Dave Hearn and Bryony Corrigan
© Robert Day

The Mischief Theatre juggernaut trundles inexorably onwards – with a new TV show tickling audiences on BBC One, the comedy caper company continues its West End residency at the Vaudeville with a bout of hoodoo tomfoolery. Whereas last year's new play Groan Ups felt like Mischief delivering something a bit left-field (a linear narrative plotting the different stages of a school gang's life) Magic Goes Wrong is the company back with its tried-and-tested formula with a show that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Which is absolutely fine for a night out – it's an entertaining tin. Following an aspiring magician (Henry Shields) with a very severe inferiority complex due to an unloving father, the piece is set in a charity magic gala. Much in the same way The Illusionists has a coterie of performers take to the stage, here a collection of odd-ball entertainers ply their wares and deliver a series of skits. The neat touch is that, peppered throughout the incessant ineptitude, are genuine moments of magical talent – tricks somehow come off, illusions cast a spell over the audience. There's a mystical method in the madness.

The highs really are quite high – Henry Lewis is a luminous presence as the wise-cracking Mind Mangler, relying on some whip-sharp improvisation to bring the house down when not stumbling through a ramshackle mind-reading routine. The audience participation is delivered with cracking ease throughout, throwing even more unpredictability into the mix.

It's also worth noting that the magic, created alongside the legendary duo Penn and Teller, while by no means genre-defying, is actually pretty decent in places – an accomplished sleight-of-hand makes one trick involving a glass box of water, a pack of playing cards and a malfunctioning pen into a stand-out sequence. The "saw someone in half" gimmick is given a gory yet still rather impressive twist, and Lewis has a smashing time with a glass bottle and five identical brown bags.

But in between these highs are a number of awkwardly non-starter moments including a laboured Deutsche double act called "Bear und Spitzmaus", performed by Nancy Zamit and Bryony Corrigan – you get the feeling that the pair really drew the short straw with the material on offer. A lengthy moment with Gwyneth Paltrow's 'ghost' lasts a deadening amount of time, there's a jarring cutaway to David Copperfield, and a by-the-numbers parody of Criss Angel also loses speed after a first outing. The incessant, exponentially increasing laughs that made The Play That Goes Wrong so polished are harder to find here.

Those who love the "Goes Wrong" brand will have a pleasant number of laughs to keep the mirth coming, but it's hard to shake the feeling that, for a large portion of the run-time, Mischief may have missed a trick.