When you think of a magic show, you might imagine a seasoned magician with a set of well-rehearsed tricks, jokes to distract your attention and clever props to achieve the element of surprise. In Darren Brown’s Unbelievable, these old tropes are thrown out of the window as seven actors, rather than illusionists, perform all the magic.
Created by Derren Brown and Michael Vine and co-produced by The Mercury Theatre in Colchester, where the show originally premiered, Unbelievable is a true fit for the West End. Inspired by many pages of magic history, the show reimagines classic tricks from different eras; from the inexhaustible kettle and linking rings, to colour vision and spiritual seances.
Treating the original material with respect and light-hearted humour, the creators of the show complement and reframe the tricks to make them more modern and exciting. They also reflect on the role of magic in the modern world, where the art of subterfuge and deception is in high demand, and the need to differ between reality and illusion has never been more pressing.
Each of the performers has their own style and signature trait, that we learn to notice and love throughout the show. From the charming moves of Simon Lipkin and silly humour of Samuel Creasey to Hannah Price’s focus and Yolanda Ovide’s tenderness, these traits complement each other and make them relatable and engaging for the audience.
Audience participation is a big part of the show. From the moment you arrive to the theatre, a few ways to interact with the cast present themselves. Some guests are writing their names on playing cards to be later drawn randomly, others request their favourite drinks via writing one on the playing cards. Some people are sent to fill shakers with the water and some have their rings tested and measured… While the audience gather, the interactions of some of the actors are projected on the backdrop, so we can follow the action even if it is not happening right next to our seat. Later in the show, live streaming on either the side screens or the backdrop becomes a key element of the production, which allows us a to look more closely at the magician’s moves or focus on the emotions of the audience members.
Another key element of Unbelievable is the music. While not all the tricks are written as musical numbers, there is a fair share of live music and singing involved. You will be surprised to learn that these talented musicians that open the show are also your hosts, main actors and magicians for the night.
Stage design and props are also impressive. With a mix of smaller, sleight of hand tricks with rings, cubes or balls, and proper parlour acts with large stage props, the set design keeps changing accordingly. While simpler design is used for more modern tricks, vintage props and styling appears when we look at Unbelievable’s take on the classics. Fringe backdrop and a rotating platform on the stage allow the magicians to play with space, teasing us with the trick’s backside while keeping its secret to themselves.
Time flies when you are watching Unbelievable and it gives you a great mood boost. Whether you are a magic fan or completely new to it, you are in for a fun, entertaining and insightful evening.