Strangers: A Magic Play

Fri 5th – Sat 13th August 2016

reviews

Coreen Grant

at 09:30 on 14th Aug 2016

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‘Strangers: A Magic Play’ starts strongly, but its first act proved to be its best. In an enterprising amalgamation of magic and drama, the performance comprises of four monologues from unrelated strangers who weave magic tricks into their story. A psychic, a waiter, a homeless man and a children’s entertainer all profess their problems while simultaneously attempting to wow the audience. Some, like the waiter and the homeless man, perform the tricks as smooth continuations of their stories, while the mind reader and entertainer are more upfront about their efforts. After the mind reader’s impressive show of psychic powers, however, the magic takes a definite back seat to the drama.

The acting is decidedly better than the magic, although not without its somewhat clichéd and forced moments. The waiter’s speech addresses relatable topics such as failure, ambition, and dreams, describing his disappointment with the real world and desire to stand out. This more serious undertone is explored further in the next act. Gary Berezin’s portrayal of a homeless man is purposefully difficult to watch and easy to sympathise with: his story of dashed hopes, shame, and hardship leave the character in tears. It is not clear, however, if the audience shares his sorrow, since waiting in expectation for tricks seems to take the edge of attention off of Gary’s story. The final act, a children’s entertainer interrupted with upsetting news, loses some of the force of his tragic disclosure through the frivolous nature of party tricks – although it is still a compelling contrast.

Although the magic of his fellows is unremarkable, director and performer Joe Strickland’s imitation (or confession) as a mind reader is the show’s highlight. Strickland succeeds in miraculously guessing at three audience member’s hidden drawings, and then performs a nerve-biting and exciting series of dangerous guesses based on audience choice, which could have led to a nasty skewered hand. His quarter of the show ends in a dramatic change of tone which lends his fanciful and fun story a weightier gravity. Joe had the audience captivated, but this seemed to slip away during the rest of the show.

Although still an enjoyable hour, the production seems stuck midway between four decent actors who are hampered by their dreams to be magicians (Joe’s allure aside). The name would suggest that the show’s attraction lies in its illusionary elements, but for this to be true Strickland would need to upgrade the tricks without losing the advantage of the drama.

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Charlotte Thomas

at 14:10 on 14th Aug 2016

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Billing itself as “…an audience experience unlike any other show in existence”, I was expecting big things from ‘Strangers: A Magic Play”. However what followed was a fairly average combination of monologues and magic tricks which, although entertaining, did not blow me away.

The production featured the stories of four characters: Mindreader (Joe Strickland – also the playwright), Waiter (Carn Truscott), Homeless Man (Gary Berezin) and Entertainer (Josh Mallalieu). Each of them delivered a soliloquy about their life/current situation during which they used an array of magical demonstrations to highlight certain points of the story or signpost the narrative. All, that is, with the exception of Strickland, whose magic was performed as a stand-alone set in the middle of his monologue. I must say that I am somewhat confused by the decision to incorporate magic into the play. I understand on one hand the desire to emphasise how what seems to be an ordinary person with an ordinary story is really anything but, however on the other hand at times the use of magic seemed to do the opposite. During some of the more harrowing narratives, the tricks seemed to undermine the severity of their story.

This was not the case for all the monologues – I would like to praise those performed by Strickland and Truscott. Both incorporated their magic in a way that did not detract from their stories, rather it enhanced them. Strickland’s incredibly charismatic performance had the audience hanging on his every word, and this made the twist after his exuberant magic display all the more affecting. Truscott’s magic was well placed so as to accent what he was saying, and never gratuitous, however the tricks themselves were fairly obvious in their execution.

Berezin’s monologue about becoming and living as a homeless man had the potential to be moving, however this was not fully achieved. On a few occasions, I could see him blinking very hard in what I assume was an attempt to squeeze some tears out of his eyes. This is also one occasion where I believe the magic to have undermined the story, as it was rather clumsily inserted and felt rather contrived when it did appear. Mallalieu had a rather tough job in delivering a less than subtle script about a very tricky subject. I’m not sure if I’m missing some important theatrical device or not, but to divert into a discussion about his illness by declaring “…and then you get hit by the cancer bus” is a tad indelicate.

All this being said, I did feel like I had experienced four different stories and seen some (sometimes good) magic, leaving me pondering the thought of seemingly ordinary peoples’ hidden stories.

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