Theatre Review: Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, Apollo Theatre

Theatre Review: Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, Apollo Theatre

Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer certainly know how to wrench every possible laugh out of a show. They are the creators of the global giggle-a-minute smash hit The Play that Goes Wrong which has been running in London for a decade. And now they have worked their magic again with Mind Mangler, which is both a send-up of modern mentalism and also an actual mentalist show.

Lewis (pictured) plays the titular character, doing his latest show while hoping for a career break, but a bit down on his luck after a marriage break-up. The Mangler is a mindreader who does the same sort of tricks as Derren Brown but in a very different style. Think of a colour? He knows it. Got a dark secert? He can guess it.

The beauty of Mind Mangler is the way that it works on more than one level. the comedy is consistently hilarious as things – intentionally – don't quite run to plan. Then they do run to plan and just when you think he must be using plants to get his predictions so right, along comes co-creator Sayer as an over-eager very obvious plant (I'm not giving too much away here, the T-shirt that says "Audience Member" does that). 

This is a show that has hilarity running through it from soup to nuts. There are quickfire sight gags, more elaborate stunts and some absolutely daft set-pieces. If you've ever seen onstage magicians before you'll have seen some of these antics, but done with a much straighter face.

If there is one quibble it is that mentalism is so easy to send up. I've seen variations of this in the past such as the Peepolykus show Mindbender. I think I saw at least two acts in Edinburgh who did the old trick pretending to read people's thoughts with a gadget held above their head and then playing fake comic answers (Olaf Falafel was one of them). Vic Reeves used to do a mindreader character in his early days too.

But Mind Mangler, written by Lewis, Sayer and Henry Shields and based on a character originally created in Magic Goes Wrong by Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields & Teller, pulls every gag together neater than anything I've seen before. The audience participation is friendly and benign and nobody ever feels like they are a victim or being picked on.

The result is a family-friendly show (age recommendation is 10+ and the are occasional swears) that will have you chatting and trying to work out how they did things all the way home. Just thinking about some of the tricks now is making me laugh all over again.

Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until Sunday 28 April. Then touring. Tickets for all shows are on sale here

Picture: Pamela Raith Photography

four stars



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