The West End, lately elevated by the arrival of such projects as the year-long Branagh Theatre Company residency at the Garrick, Jamie Lloyd's seasons at Trafalgar Studios and imminent successive transfers to Wyndham's from the Royal Court and National respectively of Hangmen and People, Places and Things, is one large variety palace. Those high-end plays happily co-exist alongside long-established crowd pleasers like Thriller Live that serve a rather different market; it is into that easy entertainment niche that The Illusionists will easily sit.
And just as Thriller Live gives us a loud, colourful repackaging of familiar Michael Jackson songs, so this magic show gives us a loud, colourful repackaging of familiar magic routines. You'll see the man sawn in two and put together again; the man who escapes from chains while submerged upside down in a tank of water; a man who shoots a mean crossbow, including an apple from off his own head; a man who collectively mind-reads the entire audience, in a Derren Brown sort of way. (Funny how they're all men, with women only there to provide decorative support as dancers or assistants).
So far, so familiar. But every now and then some real originality shines through, especially with Den Den's incredible pack of blank cards that turn themselves into different colours and images, or even objects.
The show — perhaps it should be called 'format' — is paying its first West End visit, but has already become a global franchise operation since it was launched in Australia in 2012, playing over 165 cities in 25 countries. The same week that brought this show to London sees another version return to Broadway for their second consecutive Christmas season, while productions will also simultaneously play in Dubai and Mexico before the year is out.
There's obviously a market for this: who doesn't like to be astonished? For me, though, the real dazzlement was lacking: perhaps it's all too generic and packaged, rather than inspired. But it is also undeniably slick and fast-moving.
"For all its gaudy showbiz trappings, the show has a certain charm...when you cut through the cackle and the overloud music, it has some genuinely good acts that confirm we still go to the theatre to be pleasurably puzzled."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Overblown, overlong nature of the more ambitious numbers in any case means the show contains fewer tricks than it should."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press