The Great Illusionist may be packed with magic, but its most successful trick is entrancing a young audience. Amongst impressive illusions, musical interludes and puppetry is the story of a little boy who longs to be an illusionist. Eventually winning worldwide fame, he still dreams of disappearing – the greatest illusion of all. Het Filiaal’s rich, multilayered production gives those watching a fantastic live spectacle, and plenty to take away.
We are welcomed backstage at a magic show, watching a musician warm up, magicians practice their tricks, and a white rabbit carefully check his makeup. It’s a conspiratorial setting, drawing the audience in by giving them a glimpse behind-the-scenes and involving them in the illusions. Any trick needs the audience to be in cahoots with the magician, we are told: it’s not about smoke and mirrors, tricks are actually about psychology and “brain science”. That seems to make the illusions even more impressive, relying as they do on both sleight of hand and suggestible synapses.
The production takes the idea that magic is in your mind one step further, using it to investigate human tendencies. Ultimately, magic works because people want to be deceived, the performers explain. Magic and the theatre are the perfect places to explore this idea, as the performer/ audience relationship tests how far it will stretch – the audience have to suspend their disbelief and have an active cognitive role in the action for any performance to work. The show’s conclusion exploits this, offering an ambiguous ending that the audience have to make their own decisions about. In fact, despite seeming to say so much about how magic works, nothing is ever revealed: The Great Illusionist offers more thought-provoking reflections than anything else, sprinkled through the show with a helping of humour.
There’s small-scale parlour magic and larger stage illusions, from making tiny objects appear and disappear, to removing a woman’s head and levitation. But The Great Illusionist doesn’t just show us flashy tricks, it uses them to create a thought-provoking piece about reality, secrets, our minds, and pretty much everything in between. The Great Illusionist is all you could really want out of a show for young audiences.
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