Things we learned at The Illusionists 1903: 1. You will believe a man can fly 2. The contents of a lady’s handbag can in fact be more mysterious than half a polo and an unopened packet of tissues, and 3. Dwayne the psychic dove is very funny. Once.
To explain. The Illusionists 1903 is, as hinted in the title, both the third time the troupe has visited Dubai – albeit this time with a different and even more wonderfully weird set of magic folk – and the first time they have retro-fitted their constantly evolving act. Now, with all the silly hats and sequins you can imagine that costume change would demand, this team of eight (nine if you count Dwayne) supremely talented magicians are back “to journey back into the roots of magic”.
The concept is both fun and fickle. On the one hand, in transporting its audience back to the 1900s, the showmen and women here are able to extricate themselves from modern magic’s tendency to present the technique these days less as performance and more as street art. On the other, it means they can also wheel out a succession of tricks that had probably started to feel old by the time the likes of Dynamo and David Blaine were weirding people out in nappies. Is all this nostalgic, or is it just old? Maybe that’s down to personal taste. Or maybe that’s all part of the illusion.
There are high-points aplenty, and we’re not just talking about the show-stopping levitation routine that, appropriately enough, ends the show. Some of it – the teleportation routine, for instance – is eminently figure-out-able, with the magician entering a sealed box on stage only to reappear in the audience. (We won’t spoil it, but trust us.) Some of it isn’t even presented as an illusion at all – the “death defying” revamp of Houdini’s water tank set-piece is built up simply, and all the more effectively for it, as a very difficult physical, not metaphysical, task.And some of it – we’re looking at you, scary clairvoyant lady – is executed with such panache you only realise – with a chill on the way home – that what you watched isn’t necessarily the same as what you actually saw.
And then there’s Dwayne. He is, as is made reference to repeatedly throughout, “just a bird”, but much of your enjoyment will rest on his fluffy little shoulders. (Do birds have shoulders? For the purposes of this metaphor, let’s go with it.).
Dwayne is pitched as a “psychic dove” and is wheeled on at various interludes when costume changes and the budget dictates – a magiciany amuse bouche to keep everyone entertained while the main courses are being assembled behind closed doors. He is fine. In fact, in his “disappearing dove” and “psychic phone call” skits, he is downright hilarious. He’s just on too frequently and for too long. As is the man with the silly trousers who can juggle an endless array of objects. Which is really spectacular, until it just becomes endless.
Frankly, some judicious editing would reduce the show to a more small bladder-tolerant run time and speed it up at the same time. But while the feel here it’s smaller in scale than the posters would perhaps have you imagine, with all their Vegas fonts and hero lighting, The Illusionists 1903 has an intimacy and spontaneity to it that makes it never less than captivating. Whether it’s ad-libs between the performers and audience members, or even a “helpful” gentlemen getting a little too thorough in his checking of harnesses on tied-up ladies, there is apparently nothing that can distract these distractors from doing what they do best.
November 7, 2.30pm. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road.
The bottom line
Loads of fun, spontaneous and spectacular – but there’s too much padding between the major set-pieces.