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Master of the Macabre review, the Vaults, London – ‘keeps the audience guessing’

Benedict Barber in Master of the Macabre at the Vaults, Waterloo, London. Photo: Jack Sain Benedict Barber in Master of the Macabre at the Vaults, Waterloo, London. Photo: Jack Sain
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The Vaults beneath Waterloo station has proven itself a fitting venue for immersive work, earlier this year playing host to theatrical experience Alice’s Adventures Underground. But here the subterranean tunnels take a decidedly darker turn for Master of the Macabre, the first solo stage show by magician Benedict Barber.

The show’s autobiographical thread begins with the playground trickery that inspired Barber as a young boy. There are clever card games, live creepy crawlies and we are even taught some sleight of hand – “the kind you can do at Christmas when you’re pissed”.

It’s all standard fare, albeit executed with theatrical flare by Barber, who is a natural showman, but a less natural actor – the heightened persona wears a bit thin at times. It is in the second act though that he brings out the real theatrics and ramps up the tension.

One thing Barber – who was discovered performing in Covent Garden – has mastered is the art of a build-up. While the show’s final moments veer towards absurdity, there is no doubt that he can keep an audience enthralled (gasps and shrieks included).

It is undeniably clever, and director and fellow magician Tony Middleton ensures the production keeps the audience guessing all the way out the door.

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Verdict
Master of the Macabre is not without its faults, but Barber is an engaging performer and this is an encouraging stage debut
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