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Review: Love And Other Magic Tricks
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Monday, 12 July 2010

I’ve been aware for a while that John van der Put is a highly-regarded stage magician; but like most of the festival crowd, I know him mainly as his alter ego “Piff The Magic Dragon”.  And while it’s one thing to be typecast, it’s quite another to be typecast as bad-tempered, scaly and green.  So I jumped at the chance to see van der Put in his alternative human form – together with fellow illusionist Maya Politaki.

Love And Other Magic Tricks isn’t exactly a conjuring show; rather, it’s a play, with conjuring worked in.  As a piece of theatre, it’s elegant and concise, charting the progress of a boy-meets-girl relationship from their initial encounter through to their inevitable quarrels.  It’s a simple tale but it’s creatively told; Politaki, in particular, has some mesmerising dance-like sequences, and the comedy of manners which follows their initial meeting is almost worthy of a show on its own.

The magic tricks are worked cleverly into the storyline; they never feel gratuitous and, in the main, dovetail perfectly with the development of the plot.  Some actually form a part of the story, but most are well-chosen stylized reflections of what’s happening on the stage.  The blossoming of love, for example, is signified by bright red balls appearing seemingly from nowhere, sitting atop the protagonists’ hearts.
 
It’s sweet and funny, entertaining and sharp, but it has a harder edge too: towards the end, the relationship isn’t always a bed of roses.  I'm thoroughly bored of that well-known trick where the magician forces sharpened stakes through a box containing his companion, but accompanied by a back-story, the hackneyed stunt became scary and visceral again.  And it’s here, too, that the show makes an interesting and deeply controversial choice: comparing the compulsion of love to the addiction of nicotine, the two characters start to smoke.

Hailing as I do from Edinburgh, smoking on stage carries an added frisson for me; it’s illegal in Scotland, and I’d fully expected to come out of the show praising the greater artistic freedoms available south of the Border.  But it didn’t quite work out that way.  The extraordinary number of cigarettes lit during the final few minutes filled the front of the auditorium with a thick smog.  I left with a nasty wheeze, and a distinct desire to head straight to the dry cleaner’s.

It’s a complex issue, and you shouldn’t let it put you off seeing this excellent show, but all in all I wish they’d found a different motif.  Never mind though; Love And Other Magic Tricks is a great idea done well, and deserves praise both as theatre and as magic.  Its run in Buxton is over now, but do grab the chance if you see it on elsewhere.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.