Review: The Wonder Shop

I went to see the Wonder Shop- the latest venture between MagicSoc and CircusSoc since that last one, although omitting Comedy society this time. It played out as a trip […]

3 half stars

I went to see the Wonder Shop- the latest venture between MagicSoc and CircusSoc since that last one, although omitting Comedy society this time. It played out as a trip to a fantastical store of fantasticalness fronted by magicians Paul Gow and Joe Spencer (who I’ll remind readers I know personally, just for full disclosure). Part of the reason I’ve taken so long to submit this review is that I still haven’t quite made my mind up about the evening.

“Hah!”, say the children of the village, “There goes Chris- the meanest reviewer that ever reviewed a PA event!”. Yes I admit it, my last review of a joint Magic-Circus affair wasn’t all too glowing, and at first glance you might think it’s more of the same. But three and a half stars is… 70%? That’s a first in your degree. That’s a whole extra star! Let’s dig in shall we?

Positives first, for there certainly were many. For starters the show was, in a number of places, extremely funny with the absolute star being the deliciously villainous Olly Morris as the evil cockney antagonist trying to out-magic, and out-profit the titular Wonder Shop, of Spencer & Gow & Sons & Sons. His infectious audience interaction and evil-themed magic tricks were the undisputed highlight of the show, and ended up overshadowing a lot of the intervening scenes with anticipation of his next appearance. Simon King was another memorable magician, playing the part of a washed up hard-talking cop showing how to catch a crook using mentalism, and gaining great comedy value through his straight-faced and gritty delivery.

Some of Circus’s performances were suitably impressive too: including a talented Hula-Hooper, a nerve wracking acrobatic display, and some stellar juggling and poi using illuminated props. The most impressive individual act was undoubtedly the diablo display by Andrew Hersee, which seemed to revolve around giving two fingers to the laws of physics and included such impossible moves as hurling the diablo out sideways, and deftly recapturing it by whipping the string after it. This was closely contested by a superb flower stick “battle” for the last stick in stock. The only criticism here was that sometimes the stage angling made it hard to see what was going on low-down, even from our relatively close seats (although this obviously doesn’t reflect at all on the performers).

I think the biggest problem with Circus Society’s contribution was that the framing of the show meant that they only ever felt like an addition to the performance rather than one of its central components– which it deserved to be. Some of the ways performances were worked into the story felt a tad contrived, although it’s hard to tell if this wasn’t part of a deliberate undercurrent of self aware irony (which there certainly was, and sometimes felt a bit forced in amongst all the lampshading of plot holes).

Circus also seemed to lose momentum as their exciting illuminated poi gave way to mediocre at-best regular poi, and an increasing number of dropped props. There was some impressive talent, but as the night wore on it felt somewhat diluted. The magic tricks were also lacking in heft, with several of them effortlessly decoded by the people sitting around me (and one involving a dog appearing particularly dull). That said, there were some, like a deft sleight of hand routine by Youngjo Song, that inspired genuine astonishment. Joe and Paul were suitably entertaining (and indeed very funny), and they kept up a fervent energy throughout the show, although by the end some of their dialogue began to feel a bit tired and I do wonder if they wouldn’t have benefited from moving away from their previously well-trodden personas of “eccentric Victorian gentlemen” (funny as they are) for new ground. That said the crowd seemed to enjoy the banter and if you’ve not seen their previous shows, I imagine it wouldn’t have been quite as noticeable.

Actually, all of the above  issues would have been solved by taking a third off the running time and populating the show with fewer, higher-quality acts. It would have kept the show moving, and kept the witty ‘banter’ from running dry.

Bottom line? There’s potential here for some excellent entertainment, and all these guys need to do is trim things down and sprinkle on some new material and you’d be in for a fantastic night. A five-star, insides-hurting-from-laughter-and-astonishment night.