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Impossible review at the Noel Coward Theatre, London – ‘patchy and old-fashioned’

A scene from Impossible. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Returning for a second summer run, Impossible, the glossy West End magic showcase, has a lot in common with an old-fashioned variety night. There are seven performers on the bill, with the 2016 show containing some new faces and some familiar, some new routines and some old.

Attention has evidently been paid to some of the criticisms leveled at last year’s production because the line-up now includes Women. Two of them. Sabine van Diemen gets to saw a man in half. She does it while wearing hot-pants, but I suppose this is progress. Of sorts.

The big draw here is the presence of Lance Corporal Richard Jones, the first magician to win Britain’s Got Talent, but while he performs a serviceable card trick to a (very) cute kid from the audience, he’s lacking in panache and stage presence.

Ben Hart, who featured on the BBC’s Killer Magic, is clearly a bit of a magic geek; he has an evident interest in its history – he dons Victorian costume for one of the stand-out illusions of the night – but some of his close-up tricks, while elegant, get a little lost, despite the presence of video screens around the theatre.

The most solid offerings come from the returnees. Chris Cox’s mind reading shtick is slick and escapologist Jonathan Goodwin knows how to wow a crowd – you have to hand it to a man who will willingly sets his own crotch on fire. Hip-hop street magician Magical Bones, another newcomer, pulls off a couple of impressive tricks – this is a man can backflip while doing card magic – but he could really do with dialling down the smarm.

The whole thing feels like a kind of budget British magic Avengers. Only with too many Hawkeyes (one of them even has a crossbow), one Cap, two interchangeable Black Widows and the kind of dialogue that would make Joss Whedon weep into his beard. Seriously, some of the writing whiffs like Epoisses that’s been left to sit for a bit.

Despite the glitz, the video, and the Vegas lasers, the show highlights just how difficult it is to make magic work in a pros arch theatre, (and what a spectacularly good job Derren Brown does of it). Van Diemen and escapologist Josephine Lee feel fairly secondary; Lee’s water torture cell sequence in particular is weirdly lacking in peril considering it involves her being locked in a glass tank full of water.

Despite some astonishing moments, the show as whole has a throw-back quality which is fine – it’s clearly pitched at a family audience – but there’s only so much soft rock and portentous voiceover one can take, only so many times you can watch silent women having pointy things thrown at them and being locked in boxes.

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Patchy and defiantly old-fashioned West End magic showcase