AS album number three arrives so soon, why are the Irish band being as prolific as the early Beatles? Two Big Egos In A Small Car culture podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson discuss Skinty Fia in Episode 89.
Plus: what happens to the BBC when the licence fee ends? Anything else? Sheffield Leadmill update; The Divine Comedy at York Barbican review; Gary Barlow’s show with a difference, and why Mischief and Penn &Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong is wand-erful.
GREAT Yorkshire Fringe festival favourites Morgan & West present their new show Unbelievable Science at York Theatre Royal on Saturday afternoon.
After a decade of magic shows for young and old alike, their time-travelling conjuring act is well established on the UK touring circuit, but these spiffing chaps hide a dark secret beneath their prestidigitatory prowess.
Rhys Morgan and Robert West are Oxford graduates with degrees in physics and chemistry and fully qualified secondary school teachers to boot.
Unbelievable Science combines the duo’s trademark showmanship and silliness with genuine scientific knowledge and a lifelong love of learning to create a fun science extravaganza for all ages.
After their nomination for a Primary Times Children’s Choice Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, science communicators Morgan & West are taking the show all over England, where audiences will experience captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology.
Fires, explosions, lightning on stage, optical illusions, mass audience experiments and 3D shadow puppets await all those “wily enough to come along to be intrigued by science”.
“In the age of ‘so-called experts’, we felt it was time to bring families together to marvel and wonder at what science and nature has to offer us all, provoking questions and discussions as to how things work and what regular people themselves can learn from it,” say Morgan & West.
“It’s time to throw out the jargon and make everything plain, simple, clear and enormously exciting.”
Tickets to see these Penn & Teller: Fool Us winners on May 7 at 2.30pm are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Magic Goes Wrong, by Mischief/Penn & Teller, York Theatre Royal, tonight at 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm; Sunday; 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Age guide: 11+
IN a nutshell, Magic Goes Wrong, show goes right. Cue packed houses, just as there were for Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong (twice) and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery on past York visits, taking in both the Theatre Royal and Grand Opera House.
If those calamitous, chaotic comedies were essentially English in character, for Magic Goes Wrong, Olivier Award-winning Mischief writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have gone international by teaming up with deconstructionist American magicians Penn & Teller.
Off to Las Vegas headed the Mischief triumvirate to match their verbal and physical comedy skills and instinct for catastrophic comedic structure with Penn Jillette and Teller’s magical sleight of hand.
The result is a show big on set pieces and spectacle, with the rhythm and flow of a speciality act bill or a circus and the cliff-edge drama of the audience knowing that if anything can go wrong, it will, but still being surprised by how it does just when you think you are one step ahead.
In the play within the magic show, a hapless gang of magicians is staging an evening of grand illusion billed on a malfunctioning archway of lights as the Disaster In Magic Charity Fundraiser. In Mischief tradition, mayhem ensues as acts flounder, flounce or or fall out, accidents spiral beyond control and so does the ever-elusive fundraising target.
All the while, in the Mischief house style, all the acts take everything very seriously, the more so with every calamity, faces determinedly kept straight even when in panic or pain, as they try to stay as serene as a swan on water while paddling not so elegantly beneath the surface – and unlike observing a swan, we can see that frantic paddling: the perfect recipe for comedy.
Running the charity fundraiser is Sam Hill’s master of ceremonies Sophisticato, son of late, great magician The Great Sophisticato, who took perverse pleasure in refusing to pass on his skills or props. Embitterment is never far from the breaking through the oily façade.
Ruining ill-fated Sophisticato’s desire for a smooth-flowing night are what befalls not only himself but also Valerie Cutko’s statuesque Eugenia, Rory Fairbairn’s hapless Mind Mangler, Kiefer Moriarty’s The Blade, with his lust for endangering himself, and the sparring German act Spitzmauz (Jocelyn Prah) and Bar (Chloe Tannenbaum), capricious as cats as they constantly seek to outdo or undermine each other.
Smashing down theatre’s “fourth wall”, audience participation plays a big part, with a cameraman filming audience members as they partake in the Mind Mangler’s inept mind games.
Pick your own favourite among the magic acts, maybe Prah’s wunderbar Spitzmauz, maybe Hill’s exasperated, thwarted, on-a-knife-edge MC, Sophisticato, but most probably Beverley-born Fairbairn’s Mind Mangler, the mentalist magician going out of his mind, initially vainglorious, inducing mockery, but gradually turning the audience to his side with cheers, maybe his ultimate mind game.
Allied to Penn & Teller’s penchant for the wow factor, the Mischief makers apply the ‘ow!’ factor, in the comic tradition of “no pain, no gain”. Magic Goes Wrong covers so many comedy bases under Adam Meggido’s direction, from downright silliness to upright characters; from physical danger to slapstick; from fast farce to slow-build momentum; from friction between the players to metatheatre.
The more you experience each character, amid the rising desperation, the funnier they become, in the tradition of Michael Crawford’s Frank Spencer or John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty.
Then wave the wand of magic over the mishaps, pratfalls and power struggles, and abracadabra, delusion and illusion combine to glorious comic effect. Amid the calamitous carnage, there are still “how-did-they-do-that?” magical moments, quickly followed by a give-away ‘reveal’ for the bigger laugh.
Whereas celebrity-led fundraising telethons go so slickly, this Disaster Magic night could not be more contrasting, but what comic relief for anyone who finds those over-excited, tearful telethons a turn-off.
Keep an eye on the misbehaving Disaster In Magic Charity Fundraiser arch in Will Bowen’s hi-tech set design, spelling out new words from those letters as the lights go out in yet another font for comedy where one word sums up this fabulous, fun, funny show: MAGIC.
What if you don’t like magic? You will love Magic Goes Wrong.
Please note: Magic Goes Wrong co-creators Penn & Teller do not appear on stage.
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.
AMERICAN comedy magicians Penn & Teller have been sawing the magic rulebook in half for five decades. Now they have teamed up with British masters of mishap Mischief for Magic Goes Wrong, heading for York Theatre Royal on tour from April 26 to May 1.
Teller, 74, and Penn Jillette, 67, have long specialised in combining bamboozling illusions with dark comedy, their magic often seeming to go horribly wrong in its combination of comic danger, sometimes gore, even violence.
Their notorious habit of repeatedly revealing to the audience exactly how their tricks work has long prevented the duo from being members of the Magic Circle. Not that they mind. Far from it. patter-merchant Penn and the silent Teller revel in the illusion of chaos, typified by one of their stage shows beginning with a giant fridge falling on the pair, apparently crushing them.
Meanwhile, the Mischief team of Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, and Jonathan Sayer have delivered such calamitous comedy hits as The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, along with the BBC One series The Goes Wrong Show, where the comedy is rooted in the show-must-go-on spirit of the straight-faced cast members determinedly defying everything collapsing around them.
Penner & Tell plus Mischief equalled the perfect match in the making. Sure enough, in 2019, the Americans announced they would be teaming up with the Brits. Cue Magic Goes Wrong opening in the West End, London, and subsequently casting a spell on tour.
How did the marriage in magical mayhem come to fruition? A few years ago, Penn & Teller were performing in London when Penn’s family decided they wanted to see a West End show. “I don’t go to comedy theatre at all,” recalls Penn.
“I like theatre to be deadly dull, slow and depressing, but my wife and children picked The Play That Goes Wrong. I realised that not only was my family laughing harder than I’ve ever seen them, but I was too.” Immediately, he told Teller to book a ticket.
Despite being known for his onstage silence, it was Teller who started discussions with Shields, Lewis and Sayer, Mischief’s artistic directors. “I am more shy than Teller, so it never crossed my mind to go backstage,” says Penn. “But Teller took himself backstage and said, ‘hey I’m a star’!”
Teller insists it was a somewhat different story: “As I was sitting in my seat, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You’re Teller, aren’t you? The cast wants to give you free ice cream’. So, afterwards, I went backstage to thank the cast and compliment them, because it really was one of the finest shows I’ve ever seen.”
What’s more, Penn had mentioned to Teller that the show featured a magic trick. “He told me there’s a moment where a person reappears in a grandfather clock, and it’s going to fool you,” Teller explains. “And he was right. It absolutely fooled me. So, I said to the Mischief guys, ‘You do stuff that is so much like magic, we should do something together sometime’.”
A few months later, all five of them were eating homemade pancakes at Teller’s Las Vegas house and plotting a new stage show. Working with unfamiliar people was a new experience for Penn & Teller who, despite decades in show business, rarely collaborate beyond the two of them. Teller has directed two Shakespeare plays, as well as a documentary film, but for Penn it was nerve-wracking.
“Teller and I have a dynamic that we’ve built over 46 years, so this was a huge leap of faith,” he says. “We couldn’t go out to dinner with these guys; we had to jump straight into bed. We were told: ‘they are going to be here at 10am on Wednesday and you’ll start writing your show. You won’t even know which one is Jonathan and which ones are Henry [times two]. But it took about 20 minutes before I felt like I was around my closest friends.”
Shields, Lewis and Sayer spent a week and a half putting together the show’s bones in a small side room off the stage of The Rio hotel, where Penn & Teller are the longest-running headline act in Las Vegas history. Penn & Teller taught the team magic – “they picked it up incredibly quickly” – and suggested tricks to include, while the Mischief trio improvised dialogue and story.
Just as Mischief were excited to be working with two of their heroes, Penn & Teller were no less in awe of Mischief’s talent. “There was one moment Henry (Lewis) and Jonathan said, ‘it could kind of go like this’, and then the two of them did a five-minute improvisation,” recalls Penn.
“Now, I have sat in a room with Lou Reed playing Sweet Jane four feet from me. I’ve talked to Richard Feynman about physics. I’ve spoken to Bob Dylan. But I said, ‘this is a moment I will bookmark for the rest of my life’.
“I felt like I was watching the Pythons at their peak, and I thought, ‘this is why I’m in showbiz: to be that near that level of talent and skill’. And when I’m on my deathbed listing the 100 artistic events of my life, that moment will be there.”
Roll on a few more sessions and the show had come together, its storyline built around a disastrous fundraising benefit. However, by adding the trademark Goes Wrong approach, all the tricks had to work on two levels: there had to be the trick that goes wrong, and then the trick that dazzles the audience.
How did they devise these illusions? As Teller explains, the process can be laborious. “You get an idea, which is usually quite grand, then you find that it’s impossible, and you revise it over and over again until it works.
“There’s a trick in the show where one of the cast members gets accidentally sawed in half by a buzzsaw. That was more than a year of work. Part of the trick involves blood, but if you just show the blood on stage, it looks boring; it has no impact at all.
“So a big part of the buzzsaw trick for us was developing it in such a way that when the blood came, it would be sprayed up against a huge backdrop where you could truly enjoy the bright red colour.”
While on the subject of blood and buzzsaws, Magic Goes Wrong is more comically gory than Mischief’s previous work. Was that Penn and Teller’s influence? “Guilty!” says Penn. “I’m afraid it might have something to do with us,” Teller admits. “We think that gore is essentially funny. It’s really hard to pull off serious gore in the theatre because people tend to want to laugh. They know that it’s fake, but they see that it looks real. And that’s very much like a magic trick.”
Penn & Teller’s work thrives on this clash of instinct and intellect. “What you want to do is get the visceral and the intellectual to collide as fast as possible,” says Penn. “It’s like being on a rollercoaster: I’m safe; no, I’m not; I’m safe; no, I’m not. Those two parts of your body are fighting.”
Despite Mischief and Penn & Teller having built their careers on making it appear that everything is going horrifically wrong, they insist that mishaps are incredibly rare in real life. “While we’re rehearsing, we might get a minor cut or bruise,” says Teller. “But we don’t ever allow the possibility of something going seriously wrong because if we did, we wouldn’t have been working successfully for 46 years.”
Indeed absence of safety angers Penn & Teller, who show disdain for “edgy’ magicians who put themselves in actual physical danger, even lampooning them in the show with the character of The Blade, who puts his limbs on the line for art’s sake.
“If you want to see someone actually get hurt, go watch NASCAR [ferocious high-speed car racing with frequent crashes],” says Penn. “If you want your art to be dangerous, stay away from me.”
Teller concurs: “Anytime I hear that in the making of a movie somebody was actually injured or killed, I’m angry about that, because art is what you do for fun.” The paradox of the magician duo’s work, and of Magic Goes Wrong too, is that everything must be incredibly safe precisely in order to make it look so dangerous.
For Penn, what makes Magic Goes Wrong so right is the combination of magic and comedy. “It’s a full magic show and a full comedy show happening at the same time,” he says.
Teller highlights a deeper, more unexpected layer to the show: “What’s interesting to me is how well it reflects the actual culture of the magic world,” he says. “It’s mostly populated by well meaning, very nice amateurs. And there is a great, heart-tugging beauty about that to me.
“The poignancy of the magic trick that isn’t quite achieved, where your aspirations are to behave in a godlike manner, and instead you’re slapped in the face by reality – I think that’s such a beautiful thing. That’s what this show is about. It has all these laughs and all these wild, crazy moments, but when it lands at the end, it’s about the sweetness of friends who love magic.” Mischief and Penn & Teller’s Magic Goes Wrong appears at York Theatre Royal from April 26 and vanishes from York after May 1; performances, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Please note, show co-creators Penn & Teller will not be appearing on stage.
What happens in Magic Goes Wrong?
A HAPLESS gang of magicians is staging an evening of grand illusions to raise money for charity, but as the magic turns to mayhem, accidents spiral out of control, so does the fundraising target. Cue dare-devil stunts, jaw-dropping feats and magical mishaps.