REVIEW: Impossible, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, February 27
Like the cabaret shows of yore, a pick ‘n’ mix of performers step into the spotlight in a bid to make you gasp in disbelief.
It’s a magic box of tricks and stunts: intricate sleight of hand, card tricks, mind-reading and even a burning man hanging upside down in a straight jacket which had me watching through my fingers. I’ll get back to him later.
It’s a show which doffs its top hat to the age-old history of magic with ‘spells’ such as alchemy and that most retro of tricks - sawing a glamorous assistant in half - to more contemporary feats, such as a hip hop magician, and wraps it all up in a bow of slick lighting, lasers and staging.
Do they pull off the trick? On the whole, yes. Though some performances were more memorable than others.
You certainly won’t forget daredevil, escapologist Jonathan Goodwin. He brings large-scale stunts to the show that had me holding my breath. He eases us in gently with a deck tear. ‘That’s ok’ I thought, no one’s going to lose a limb from ripping a deck of cards.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a strongman act. Cue another glamorous assistant who rather calmly takes her seat holding a balloon while a blindfolded Jonathan fires at her with a 200-mile-an-hour crossbow. Again, no limbs were harmed. Phew.
It was his Houdini act though, which really had me wondering just how high the show’s insurance premiums are. A member of the audience helps to strap Jonathan into a straightjacket, before he’s doused in petrol, hangs upside and is set alight while suspended mid-air. It’s ballsy stuff.
You can almost feel the heat of the fire from the dress circle as the audience wills him to get out of the jacket and reach for the hanging fire extinguisher. It was a moment of pure relief when he lands back on the stage unscathed.
Bringing a lighter note to the proceedings is Chris Cox, a mind-reader and natural comedian who engages brilliantly with the crowd - there’s plenty of audience participation here, which keeps it fresh. Can he read minds? I don’t know, but he had me believing and laughing all at the same time.
Dapper magician Ben Hart charmed the crowd with his traditional techniques with a modern twist. A giant screen means you can see up-close his incredibly dextrous digits as he manipulates your mind with his sleight of hand. A black and white mime scene proved particularly hypnotic.
The audience are a pivotal part of the show - so many are used they can’t be stooges - and Ben brings magic back to basics when he sits on the floor of the stalls with a young theatre-goer to wow him - and us - with a simple rope trick.
Break-dancing Magical Bones rounds off the spectacle. A former backing dancer for the likes of Black Eyed Peas and Madonna, he uses his skills to impressive effect in card tricks - at one point catching an audience member’s card mid back-flip.
A cleverly-mixed track by DJ Yoda sees Mr Bones pull off the final trick, revolving around card numbers that correlate with music tracks, with style.
“How did he do that?” I said to my friend. That’s magic.