|Doug Segal: I Can Make You a Mentalist|
|Published on Wednesday, 21 August 2013|
Comedy mind-reader Doug Segal is back at the Edinburgh Fringe… and this year, he’s not reading any minds at all. Don’t panic: he hasn’t completely turned his back on his award-winning mentalist act, but he’s given it a fresh face by turning his duties over to a randomly-selected volunteer. Under Segal’s guidance, a woman plucked from the audience receives telepathic messages, bends solid metal, and reads words sealed in envelopes… all the time, of course, without having any real idea of how she’s doing it.
Segal’s big twist didn’t strike me as quite as innovative as the pre-show publicity made out – at the end of the day, it’s just a riff on the age-old principle of grabbing a volunteer from the audience, only with the same volunteer retained throughout the show. But never mind: it’s a neat idea to structure a routine around, and it opens the way to a genuine “oooh!” moment when Segal reveals his furniture-sized “Brainmatiser 3000”. One of the more endearing props I’ve seen in a magic show, the selected mind-reader sits in the Brainmatiser for the duration of proceedings, while Segal “programs” their psychic powers by punching codes into a keypad.
The tricks are intercut with comic sketches, which do well to break up the pace and dispel any feel of wordiness to Segal’s routine. Some of the sketches worked better than others, but a Sherlock Holmes pastiche was very fine indeed, with Segal appearing on video to interact with both his real self and the mind-reading volunteer. A live-action “music round” was a clever addition, adding a neat twist to a relatively simple trick and building up to a satisfyingly tense moment of revelation.
There’s also a side-plot involving Segal’s apparent nemesis, the innovatively-named Guri Yeller, whose malign presence we learn has had dramatic effects on some of Segal’s previous volunteers. The inevitable spoon-bending finale was a bit too laborious for my taste – but there’s a brilliant comic pay-off in the shape of a public information film, and the Yeller sideshow in general added some further interest to the plot.
All in all, Doug Segal is to be commended for shaking up the expectations of his genre, delivering a quirky show filled with plenty of variety. On the day I attended, it wasn’t quite as slick or coherent as it could have been, and I have a concern that the whole concept is built on a daily gamble. The right type of volunteer could transform the show, while the wrong one could break it. But still, I Can Make You A Mentalist is good enough to be worth taking that risk… and do pay attention for the first couple of minutes, because in another break from tradition, Segal actually gives you a totally candid explanation of how all his tricks are done.
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