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The Illusionists review at Shaftesbury Theatre, London – ‘big, brash, and energetic magic showcase’

Adam Trent in The Illusionists at Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Photo: The Illusionists
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Returning to the West End with a new line-up following a successful Broadway engagement, long running magical variety act The Illusionists is a brash, bombastic mixed bag.

A mash-up of styles and performance skills, the production runs at a breathless pace, with director Neil Dorward allowing each of the show’s seven performers only a brief segment or two in which to demonstrate their specialities.

These cover a range from mind-reading to high-concept stunts to overfamiliar ‘is this your card?’ audience interactions. Comedy-magician Paul Dabek serves as compere, padding out the show with daft, punny patter and a genuinely delightful rapid-fire shadow puppetry routine.

A recent finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, daredevil Jonathan Goodwin projects plenty of charismatic confidence and a cheerful disregard for his own safety, casually popping a scorpion into his mouth, or burying himself alive in a shower of golden grit to add jeopardy to his capable escape artistry. It’s dexterous sleight-of-hand expert Yu Ho-Jin who really stands out, though, wordlessly producing and vanishing cards with understated, unhurried precision.

Yu Ho-Jin in The Illusionists at Shaftesbury Theatre, London. Photo: The Illusionists

Evan Jolly’s soundtrack blares out continually, featuring rocky riffs and swelling sonic rumbles straight out of a Hans Zimmer score.

Ostentatious lighting by Paul Smith does a fine job of guiding the eye: angled beams criss-cross the space with symmetrical streaks of smoky blue and magenta. Meanwhile, necessary blackouts and blinding bursts are kept crisp and brief, obscuring just enough of the onstage action to keep the audience on their toes.

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Verdict
Yu Ho-Jin gives the stand-out performance in an energetic and enjoyable, if uneven magical showcase
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