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Cabaret review: Very Strange Things

Cabaret Festival

As intriguing as it can be to unravel the unexplained, it’s equally tempting to occasionally allow a little magic into our lives. Lawrence Leung’s Very Strange Things is a show for the mystery lover, the puzzle solver and those who fall somewhere in between.

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The opening quote on the screen at the side of the stage reads: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice.”

Tonight we’ll be asked to choose. Do we really want to see behind the magician’s curtain?

Lawrence Leung — stand-up comedian, writer, filmmaker and science communicator — is well known for his work on TV shows including OffspringMaximum Choppage and Choose Your Own Adventure. He’s also absorbed with exploring the “psychology of belief, deception and why people believe weird things”, and is at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival with a spooky solo performance that was nominated for the comedy award at Perth’s 2018 Fringe World festival.

Leung is an “open-minded sceptic in a theatre laboratory”, inviting his audience to travel with him as he explores the worlds of the séance and the charlatan. Through a series of routines he debunks the subtle psychological techniques of confirmation bias and cold reading, and proves that coincidences are only as powerful as the meanings we attach to them.

There’s an ESP test, some fancy Rubik’s Cube fiddling and several impressive how-did-he-do-that moments. One experience, involving two volunteers, is truly baffling and provoked intense debate in the foyer after the show.

Sure, we might have seen some of these tricks before, but Leung’s stand-up mentalism show works because he’s a funny guy and a charmer. His jokes (including plenty of Star Wars and X-Files references) land just on the right side of corny, and even though some illusions go less smoothly than others, we’ve got our fingers crossed that his “powers” recover.

Clever use of projected footage, a suitcase full of low-tech props and some stress-free audience participation keeps us hooked.

Deep down we all know we’re witnessing con-artistry and fakery, but there are still a few gasps and moments of head scratching. And that choice? Towards the end of the show we’re given a chance to see how one of the tricks is done, as long as we promise to keep the secret to ourselves. Will we choose enlightenment or preserve the mystique?

The final performance of Very Strange Things is at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Artspace tonight (June 14). See more Adelaide Cabaret Festival coverage here.

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