Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE, Apollo Theatre

Plenty of magic but no spark.

By: Mar. 25, 2024
Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE, Apollo Theatre
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Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE, Apollo Theatre A spin off from Mischief Theatre’s Magic Goes Wrong,  Mind Mangler: Member Of The Tragic Circle makes its official London debut.

The show started life at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022, was converted into a two-act show for a short run in London the following year before appearing off-Broadway with the subtitle “A Night Of Tragic Illusion” and now finally appears for its first press night at the Apollo. 

Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE, Apollo Theatre
Photo credit: Pamela Reith

The premise sees our hapless conjurer Kevin (Henry Lewis) on top of the world with this West End show, an upcoming UK tour and a Las Vegas gig all in front of him. In reality, he is reliant on a mystery backer and his housemate Steve (Jonathan Sayer) to pop up and prop up his show as the audience stooge. Each trick without fail has disaster written all over it until somehow, against all the odds, the Mangler pulls off success after success. 

Those who have been to one or another of the Goes Wrong franchise and expecting something similar may be in for a bit of a shock. The Play, Peter Pan and Magic could each be described as self-contained theatrical works with carefully crafted calamities and minimal audience interaction. Mind Mangler has the trademark concoction of cock-ups - the auto-prompter spits out words he would rather not (and should not) say in front of a mixed audience of adults and children, a spoon-bending trick bends a mike stand and overhead light instead of the actual spoon and an escapologist attempt sees his head chopped off not once but twice - but there is far more improvisation and audience interaction and this is decidedly not a family show despite stating that it is suitable for children aged 10+.

Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE, Apollo Theatre
Photo credit: Pamela Reith

Co-written by Mischief founders Lewis, Sayer and Henry Shields, this latest addition to their family of productions is the first that seems like a mis-step. Like Magic Goes Wrong (co-written with legendary US magicians Penn & Teller), there are some enjoyable set scenes which will shock and awe (in a good way) and then there are the parts where Lewis is more in making-it-up-as-he-goes-along mode and riffing off the crowd input and reactions (not in a good way).

Audience members are asked to submit a “secret” into a box at the beginning of the show which Lewis will then try to guess. One man’s secret is found to be that he was banned from New Zealand. When asked why, he mumbles something about “immoral items” and gestures to his children next to him by way of explaining his vague reply. Lewis presses and presses for more details. The obviously embarrassed man responds, “I really can’t. This a family show.” No, it isn’t,” roars back the Mind Mangler who had previously been tricked into joking about exposing himself on stage and drops more than a few f-bombs through the night. 

Lewis does manage to steer the ship back on course with some sublime help from Sayer. The duo play out the theatrical subplot with all the confidence, consummate ease and superlative timing one would expect from this experienced partnership and their back-and-forth is the glue which keeps this production together. Much of the magic either happens in lightning bursts or takes forever.

With a running time of over two hours, it's clear that director Hannah Sharkey could wave a wand over some of the filler sections. The mentalism is by-the-numbers and is better suited to a smaller venue where those not in the stalls can feel included. Derren Brown’s Unbelievable was another West End magic show which tried something different (in that case, not having Brown on stage) and, in both cases, there’s a feeling that an original concept has been stretched too thinly and too far from the source.

Mind Mangler: Member Of The Tragic Circle continues until 28 April

Photo credit: Pamela Reith




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