BWW Reviews: CHRIS DUGDALE: TWO FACED DECEPTION, Leicester Square Theare, September 20 2011
Throughout his new show, Two Faced Deception, Chris Dugdale has to signal to his audience that the trick is finished and that it's okay for them to applaud. It's not that the audience are reluctant to show their appreciation, it's that they are collectively stunned and bemused, replaying what they have seen in their mind's eye, trying to process information that "does not compute". It's rather like the moment the clock stops when Usain Bolt has broken another record and there's a beat of two of silence as people take it in... before the wave breaks and the applause and cheers ring out. Never have the three letters "WTF" been so clearly mimed on face after face around me - it must be huge fun for Chris to see those faces night after night.
Shorter than last year's Riverside Studios show (reviewed here) and even more up close and personal in The Lounge at the Leicester Square Theatre (until October 1), the wonders just keep coming and coming. Though some tricks will be familiar to those who were lucky enough to see the 2010 show, there's plenty of new stuff and a new pace that drives the magic forward relentlessly, as one trick finishes and the next starts. Comparisons with Derren Brown are inevitable and, for Chris, no doubt welcome, as there's more jaw-dropping in the first twenty minutes of Two Faced Deception than in two hours twenty minutes of the brand leader's Svengali. Though inevitable, the comparisons are unfair, as Chris works in a very different style - he's chummy and slightly flirtatious in smart casual tee-shirt and jacket, rather than grandiose and slightly threatening in Edwardian frock coats. But it's in developing his own personality on stage that Chris has progressed most over the last twelve months, building a rapport with his audience as individuals and as a group - there's no sense of being a stooge or made uncomfortable on stage in Two Faced Deception, as there was when the spotlight panned around the audience and Derren picked out someone and announced their most embarassing moment to a full house. That Chris still uses a shuffling, hooded alter-ego on stage and on video to inject a little darkness into the magic might be worth a re-think on his part, as he alone is plenty enough to hold everyone rapt from first to last. A near-triumphant appearance on Penn and Teller: Fool Us did not hurt public recognition.
To quibble about this show's peripheral moments is churlish - Chris Dugdale delivers extraordinary magic in extreme close-up with verve and a technical mastery that is the product of a God-given gift and endless hours of practice. You see it - there, almost within reach - but over and over again you're left astonished. On emerging from the underground lounge, blinking in the hurly-burly heart of London's theatreland, the bright lights and milling crowds bring you back to reality with a bump. Did it all happen? Already, I'm not entirely convinced that it did.