It would be easy for The Illusionists 2.0 to simply ride upon the success of last year’s original, The Illusionists. The show does prove itself as a worthy sequel, and it is clear that the creative team have been working hard with a brand new cast and concept. But in as many ways as it succeeds, the show still has a number of disappointments.
With high tech LED screens and 3D visuals, The Illusionists 2.0 is definitely no simple magic show. Scouted from around the world, the seven different illusionists each perform their own magic specialty, from the classic card trick to digital cloning and a variety of death defying stunts.
Each one of these stand-alone acts is very entertaining, but the audience yearns for a large show-stopping stunt that incorporates the talents of the entire cast.
Perhaps because of this, the more traditional, unassuming acts stole the limelight. The Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin) did not require strobes or pyrotechnics to convey wonder and beauty, and The Master Magician (Luis de Matos) amazed the audience as he orchestrated a live DIY magic trick.
It was Adelaide’s own Raymond Crowe, as The Unusualist, who received the loudest applause and was perhaps the most entertaining. Crowe has a loveably charming persona, and thrives within a hybrid art form that includes traditional vaudeville, comedy, mime and ventriloquism. An act that saw Channel 9’s Brenton Ragless invited to the stage was a particular audience favourite.
A watchful eye may sometimes discern the trick or flaw behind the magic (of which few were truly obvious), but this hardly diminishes the act’s wonder – the skill and polish of each performer is quite incredible in itself. In fact, the sold-out audience could be forgiven for thinking they had been placed before a Las Vegas stage, watching a well oiled and fast-paced entertainment juggernaut.
Fans of reality television would be familiar with a portion of the cast who found their success as former contestants on the likes of Britain’s Got Talent. Some audience members may be wary of the credibility of performers who are churned from talent quests, but the standard of the show was definitely not lessened. However, those who have already seen The Warrior, The Deceptionist or The Unusualist perform their specialty acts on television or YouTube may feel scammed that fresh material was not devised for The Illusionists 2.0.
While impressive, there was something deeply unsettling about The Hypnotist and his act. During the quiet of the interval, a hoard of volunteers was placed in a deep trance, to then become the hypnotised stars of act two. There were no smoke or mirrors used during this stunt, and as such, it is hard to ignore that the act was nothing more than uncouth entertainment at the expense of paying patrons. In addition to his role as a performer, The Hypnotist (Doctor Scott Lewis) is a chiropractic physician and clinical therapist. With such credentials, it is baffling that Lewis does not acknowledge the ethical dilemma in treating a credible meditative psychological practice as a mere carnival act.
It was also difficult to ignore the dance ensemble, which would occasionally flounce across the stage with no real purpose. The live rock band of last year’s The Illusionists may have provided some excuse, but in this new show, the dance ensemble is unnecessary and irrelevant. This is time that would have been better spent watching a roving performer or a visual interlude on the LED screens.
Amongst the stifling chaos of the pre-show foyer, some audience members were left without 3D glasses and black envelopes. Those who were unfortunate enough could not participate in the 3D imagery or live DIY magic trick. One can hope that glasses and envelopes are adequately replenished for the remainder of the season.
Despite its various shortcomings, it is difficult not to enjoy The Illusionists 2.0. The show may be hugely commercial, but it certainly bridges an entertainment gap, inviting the general mass to the theatre. The show also offers a combination of traditional and contemporary magic to a new generation of Australian audiences, with results that are nothing less than mind blowing.