The Vanishing man

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Millie Haswell

at 10:43 on 18th Aug 2018

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It’s just not possible. Or is it?

‘The Vanishing Man’ follows the story of two men set on discovering how, one smoggy afternoon, renowned Victorian magician Hugo Cedar managed to make himself disappear. Blending sleight of hand with raw emotion, Simon Evans and David Aula create a surprisingly chilling show about obsession and loss.

The performance opens as a straight-forward magic show with a string of impressive card tricks: cards being hidden in a lime, pulled out of thin air, ripped up and put back together again. The tone is swaggering and humorous, an explosive display of charm and confidence, masking the characters’ true personalities and never giving us the chance to figure out quite how they did it.

Gradually though, 'The Vanishing Man' spirals into Aula’s character’s ‘experiment’ in which he obsesses over Cedar’s disappearance, with Evans looking on in helpless dismay as his friend slowly vanishes before his eyes. Aula begins to embody Cedar, collecting diaries and wearing costumes in order to try and glean the secret of this 'Vanishing Man'. The audience grows quieter and Evans loses his gregarious persona out of concern for his friend – the rug is pulled out from under our feet as a sinister note creeps into the performance.

Evans and Aula depict touring the country with their experiment, being met with disapproval at conventions, feeding lines to audience members (twenty two of them) to recreate the adversity they faced. At one point, a card that should be a six of diamonds reads ‘let vanished men stay vanished’, raising goose bumps in an audience which had been laughing just a minute before.

‘The Vanishing Man’ is surprising and tragic, with acting which is nuanced and achingly believable; you leave the theatre jarred by how moving a magic show can be.

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Kathryn Tann

at 12:54 on 18th Aug 2018

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I wondered if this would be a magic show, and play about magic, a historical drama, hell – even a comedy. When I entered the quickly filling theatre I saw a man in tails stood on a piano, another man playing said piano, and a sign giving us instructions for a prompt later in the performance. I gave up. I simply sat down, left my notebook in my bag, and allowed ‘The Vanishing Man’ to take me on whichever theatrical journey had been planned. And I’m so glad I did.

‘The Vanishing Man’, in a way, turned out to be all of the above. It is a unique combination of magic and rationality, carefully balanced around the mysterious story of Hugo Cedar, and intertwining the present performance with a string of past, fictional performances. One of the most unique aspects was the way the pair used audience members to demonstrate previous responses to their ‘experiment’ – an element I’d like to expand on further, but the last thing I’d want to do is give too much away of this immensely clever show.

The show started abruptly, with Simon Evans leaping up and David Aula quickly discarding his costume. From that point there was no abating – had anyone else been leading an audience through such a fast-paced frenzy of magic tricks, philosophy and banterous exchanges, lots of us would have been lost along the way. But at every twist and turn I was swept along, still following, and still fascinated by the thought of what this was all leading to. My favourite element of the performance was the refreshing admittance that magic tricks are just that – tricks – and this theme made it by no means less impressive or entertaining. There was no patronising pretence of the mystical or impossible.

The end of ‘The Vanishing Man’ was not what I, or indeed anyone else, expected. In some ways it was disappointing (again, I really don’t want to give too much away), but mostly it was tragically touching. The jovial energy morphs into something more sobering which had been bubbling under the surface for a short while. And we realise that, apart from their fantastic illusions and magic tricks, these two men are also highly talented actors. ‘The Vanishing Man’, perhaps frustratingly, leaves the mystery of Hugo Cedar’s disappearance hanging above our heads, but as Evans keeps us on rational ground for the last time, his final lines offer instead the touching reality of friendship, and of our own mortality.

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