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Published on Friday, 11 May 2012

3 stars

The Brunswick (venue website)
9 May, 8:30pm-10:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains flashing lights.
 World Premiere.

Stage magic’s enjoying a renaissance right now – so much so, that we’re even growing nostalgic about the once-neglected genre’s past.  In their one-off show 1912, locally-based Sam Prior and Richard Sanders turned the clock back 100 years, promising to recreate the illusory wonderments of a more innocent age. 

It’s a nice idea, which did the job of drawing me along the seafront to Brunswick – but if Prior and Sanders return to this theme, I’d suggest they take it a little more seriously.  In the first half, aside from their Edwardian costumes, there wasn’t much to pin the action to 1912 at all; the details, such as the stacks of books used for a memory trick, were shamelessly modern.  I felt the concept worked much better after the interval, when a quick shift of the furniture conjured the atmosphere of a townhouse parlour, and the tricks themselves had the superstitious feel of an earlier age.

I warmed readily to both performers, though Prior – whose website emphasises his close-up work – seemed uncomfortable on a larger stage.  Nonetheless, the duo worked well to support each other, and they deserve to have more confidence in their banter.  Their most relaxed and funniest moments came when something unexpected forced them to ad-lib.

In a well-constructed running order, one long-running trick (featuring no fewer than thirteen manila envelopes) built neatly towards a rewarding punchline.  The show opened strongly with a mesmeric visual routine, and other seeds planted at the beginning came satisfyingly to fruition at the end.  But the overall pace was sometimes slow; selecting volunteers, in particular, usually involved an extended dither.  And, while it feels mean to point this out, the pair weren’t particularly well-rehearsed, with misplaced props and forgotten instructions sometimes conspiring to break the spell.

Yet such weaknesses seem less significant when measured against the best trick of the night, which offered an entertainingly low-budget twist on a classic Arthurian legend.  They were lucky in picking an instantly-likeable volunteer; but they made the most of their good fortune, with both build-up and banter absolutely spot-on.  When their hapless assistant failed – as they’d predicted – in his apparently simple task, I felt a wave of true consternation in the room.  It was funny, it was novel, it defied belief… and, what’s more, I’ve absolutely no idea how it was done.  You fooled us, as they say on TV.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.