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Review: Mind Mangler at Liverpool Empire ****1/2

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it’s disaster which really fires the imagination of Mischief Theatre’s merry pranksters.

And there’s plenty of disaster in their latest mischievous production to arrive at the Empire.

Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, to give it its full title, is a spin off from the award-winning company’s ingeniously ill-fated Magic Goes Wrong which played at the theatre three years ago. The Knot’s Landing to Magic’s Dallas if you will.

Penned by Mischief’s trio of founders – Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields – its ‘Gary Ewing’ is the earnest and bombastic Mind Mangler (Lewis) who promises to confound his audience with his feats of mental magic, illusion, psychic predictions, vanishing acts and large-scale hypnosis.

Mind Mangler, or Keith to his (it turns out devastatingly few) friends, claims to be able to create a psychic bond with audience members as well as ‘hear the thoughts of playing cards’ and ‘taste your job’.

On opening night of this short sojourn in Liverpool those jobs turned out to be estate agent, classic car salesman, and a QA games tester who came in for some extended ribbing.

Note that there’s no place to hide, particularly if you're at the front of the stalls, so if you’re allergic to audience participation it’s best to sit outside the Mind Mangler’s immediate eyeline.

Above: Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis) and his 'audience member' helper (Jonathan Sayer). Top: Lewis as the Mind Mangler.

These mind (mind mind mind)-blowing feats of mental dexterity and mystery are assisted by Sayer as his daft but loyal stooge and interspersed with deliciously disastrous sleight of hand illusions, dramatic escapology set pieces….and quite a lot of tragic oversharing.

As you’d expect from the Mischief team, it’s gloriously hapless and slyly haphazard stuff, expertly executed with the guidance of professional magician and illusionist Ben Hart and with more than a passing nod to the four Ds – David Copperfield, David Blaine, Derren Brown and Dynamo.

Meanwhile naughtily tasteless but very funny re-enactments of Biblical miracles have distinct echoes of a Paul Daniels’ skit in the Spitting Image book I owned in 1985. You may like it, or you may not. But you probably will.

In essence, if you like your magic to come with a large dose of mayhem and your heroes to be suitably flawed, Mind Mangler provides both in one gleeful night’s entertainment.


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