BEVERLEY actor Rory Fairbairn is making his debut for mayhem makers Mischief as the Mind Mangler in Magic Goes Wrong, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday.
Trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, he has since performed for such companies as the Dead Puppet Society, Lion & Unicorn Theatre and Bard In The Botanics but has always had Mischief in mind.
“I’ve been aware of Mischief for a very long time, maybe 12/13 years,” says Rory. “I remember seeing Lights Camera Action, a show about every film that has ever been made and every film yet to be made, performed by Mischief’s Jonathan Sayer at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“Then, a couple of years later, I saw Mischief Theatre’s brilliant The Play That Goes Wrong upstairs at the Pleasance Courtyard, a tiny venue at the Fringe, and you think, ‘oh, I’ll never get to work with them’!”
Hey ho, that was the thought that went wrong because here is Rory, playing the Mind Mangler in Magic Goes Wrong, Mischief’s magically chaotic, comically catastrophic show created with deconstructionist American masters of magic Penn & Teller.
“After coming out of lockdown, when I worked at Tesco in Beverley – so many actors I know worked at Tesco, six of them! – I did my audition tape with a bunch of things you have to read for what’s called ‘a self tape’ for Magic Goes Wrong,” recalls Rory.
“Then I went down to London for the audition and had a really fun couple of days of working with [magic consultant] Ben Hart – a magician who you might recognise from Britain’s Got Talent – where he got us in for a magic try-out day, making sure we fitted the tricks and weren’t claustrophobic, as we looked at these insane props, as none of us had ever done a show like it.”
Magic had never been part of Rory’s acting repertoire of skills. “But I’ve always been fascinated by it, like the Masked Magician on TV revealing how tricks were done. I don’t think he was very popular among magicians!” he says.
Now, as Mischief complete a hattrick of shows in York after The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Rory is part of a touring cast featuring the likes of Sam Hill’s Sophisticato, Kiefer Moriarty’s The Blade and Jocelyn Prah’s Spitzmaus in a hapless gang of magicians that stages an evening of grand illusion to raise cash for charity. When the magic turns to mayhem, accidents spiral out of control and so does their fundraising target.
“We were given magic skills to learn, involving cards, but most of the magic is in the tricks themselves because they’re so well designed and well built, though we did have to learn some little things,” says Rory.
“The show is such a mind-warp because everything has to be technically right to make the magic look like it’s gone wrong,” adds the Mind Mangler.
The cast members have not met Penn & Teller. “Sadly not, but the Mischief boys [writer-directors Sayer, Henry Lewis and Henry Shields] did fly out to Vegas to meet them and write the show with them, and I think Penn Jillette popped over for the original London run in 2019.”
Should you have it in mind to enquire as to what a Mind Mangler does, let Rory elucidate: “He’s a take on the mentalist type of magician who claims they can read your mind and speak to the dead – or that’s what he believes, but he’s unbelievably bad at it and the audience ends up being better at his job than he is!”
Has anything gone wrong in Magic Goes Wrong’s tour performances that was not planned to do so? “Oh, absolutely! But that’s live theatre in general. This show is a fascinating piece because it’s a scripted play with improvised sections and really good magic, and as with any live show things can go wrong, and when that’s happened you have to style it out. We just work together, whatever goes wrong, and hope the audience don’t notice it.”
Rory has loved working with Mischief, directed by Adam Meggido as part of a fresh troupe of Mischief makers. “It’s a brand new company for this tour, a group of lovely people to work with, getting the chance to make wonderful theatre, and that’s a sad side of acting: you work so closely together, and then it’s over,” he says.
“We’re not too far from the end of this tour, but I’d love to audition for Mischief again, for any of their shows, as they’re so good at what they do. They really have made a niche for themselves and it’s so noticeable how they get younger audiences than so many shows, when so often theatre isn’t included on people’s To Do list.
“It’s just wonderful that we can make people laugh so much post-lockdown, which of course we need more than ever right now.”
Mischief in Magic Goes Wrong, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Sunday, May 1, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm matinees, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guide: 11+. Please note, Penn & Teller will not be appearing on stage.