The Illusionists 1903 is a grandly realised show that takes us back to magic’s golden age.
The production confirms, yet again, Mark Kalin’s status as one of the world’s most accomplished creative directors and engaging magicians. It’s hard not to fall under the spell of this third production in the colourful franchise.
Electrifying and wonderfully performed, 1903 builds on the triumphs of its predecessor (The Illusionists 2.0) in precisely the way a sequel should. But it isn’t just an impressive continuation, a retro conjuring spectacle or a great example of successful franchise growth; this new show is a superb production, full-stop.
Kalin (“The Showman”) and his wife, Jinger Leigh (“The Conjuress”), warn the audience not to believe their eyes because they tell lies. And that’s true, because there is nothing slight about the sleight-of-hand that follows. This is an astonishing show because despite revisiting the classic “tricks” – such as sawing a person in half, card manipulation, disappearances, levitation and conjuring – the style and substance manage to enthral the most jaded cynic.
Even when we know how the illusion is done, these world-renowned performers turn the art into pure magic.
Rick Thomas (“The Immortal”) is exhilarating, especially during his finale when he makes his assistant levitate and disappear. Jonathan Goodwin (“The Daredevil”) is shocking when he lies not on a bed of nails, but on a singular nail. Charlie Frye (“The Eccentric”) is funny and big-hearted as he clowns his way through juggling and other vaudeville-style slapstick. With dextrous hands, Armando Lucero (“The Maestro”) performs close-up card tricks that are delightfully clever, while Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass (“The Clairvoyants”) are thought-provoking.
Rarely does a sequel expand on its antecedents without rehashing the original. But this show, while paying homage to great performers of the past such as Harry Houdini, manages to intrigue, if not hypnotise, its audience. Its exuberant and unflagging inventiveness, as well as its strong practitioners, maintain the interest throughout.
Ultimately, The Illusionists 1903 is a well-delivered, authentically engrossing, magical homage full of delicious hocus-pocus. Kalin et al do not disappoint.
The Illusionists 1903 are at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until January 25.