Simon Evans is by his own admission ‘a trickster’. His audience on Tuesday night then, should have had no complaint at falling victim to one of the most well-worn tricks in the book: the old ‘bait and switch’.
For all the publicity’s talk of this being “not a conventional magic show”, you got the impression that the audience had come expecting one of Evans’ trademark performances, featuring card tricks, comedy, and probably something involving cups and balls. And for the first fifteen minutes it seemed that Evans would deliver exactly that, instantly winning the audience over with his easy charm, and treating them to some astounding close up magic courtesy of a live video link to a screen at the back of the stage. It was just as the audience were settling happily down that Evans, with lightning sleight of hand, vanished from stage, to be replaced by his brand new troupe of performers, and the evening took a turn to the peculiar.
We were treated first to a weird, sub-Beckett short in which a young woman watched an old woman hobble along her street, rooting through dustbins. After the bizarrely cryptic revelation that she had seen a picture of the old woman when young AND SHE LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE HER the dialogue ceased altogether, as the short became silent and we watched the young woman dance with a cane and the old woman bring a scrap of paper to life.
It was difficult to know what to make of this, and confusion quickly turned to restlessness, as the audience (so attentive during
Evans’ opening act) gradually broke out into a widespread fit of coughing, and it was obvious their attention had wandered.
The magic in this short was also disappointing, featuring only two tricks, both revolving around wires concealed in the hands. Even more unfortunately, the wires in the first instance were so visible that any sense of wonder was destroyed.
Evans’ problem (and as problems go, it is probably not one he will lose much sleep over) is that he his such an engaging performer himself that it is difficult to be satisfied by a Simon Evans magic show in which he is not onstage. Even when tricks are going wrong, video links are letting
him down, or someone in the audience is brought to hysterics by the shock of a burst balloon, Evans always seems in complete control, taking everything in his stride and turning it to his advantage.
Indeed, it would have been easy to wish that Evans would simply stick to what he knows in future, were it not for the second of his two sketches, featuring Toby Gillingham and Ben Benson. Using a much simpler premise (the two were tidying their flat in preparation for a date), and underscoring the whole thing with music, this may have been less ambitious effort than its predecessor, but was a much more enjoyable watch. The magic too was more impressive, with a bottle and can that changed places across the stage one of the highlights of the night.
All in all then, not an unqualified success, but a brave attempt at creating something genuinely new, with enough promise to suggest
that if Evans’ future is indeed in this format, it may be a bright one.