Review By Kiran Gupta
But surely it’s not real?
This is the question that every audience member was asking themselves coming out of Scott Silven’s opening night at the Opera House. After all, the art of illusion is not something that most of us encounter on a daily basis. But ‘mentalist’ Silven took the audience on a journey, suspending their disbelief just long enough to keep them guessing throughout the whole show. And in the end, Silven led us to the conclusion that even if the show itself was not magic, the power of the mind just might be.
I freely admit that I am not an experienced ‘magic show-goer’. In fact, this was the first magic show that I can remember attending. And I’ll admit that I was incredulous when I first walked into the theatre, not knowing what to expect from Silven’s act. The show started slowly, with Silven recalling memories from his childhood in a prepared monologue. At this point, there didn’t seem to be any magic and I was lost.
However, as the show progressed, everything began to fall into place. Silven does not perform your typical brand of magic, using visual illusions and tricks to stun the audiences. Instead, he uses the power of language and of the imagination to draw the audience in, fostering magic out of the power of human connection. One by one, he brought members of the audience up and seemed to be reading their minds. In reality, a lot of the time he was actually guiding them as to what to think. That prepared monologue at the start that felt out of place was actually an ingenious way of planting motifs and ideas in the audience’s mind that they would bring back to him later. Every little bit of speech had a purpose.
Some moments felt scarcely believable. When an audience member said their prize possession as a child was a “Snoopy” dog, Silven reached under his chair and pulled out a billboard he had written earlier predicting that the prize possession of the audience member he called upon would be a “Snoopy” dog. Is this too much of a coincidence? Did he have plants in the audience? Did he have an assistant furiously typing up a billboard backstage and slipping it under the stage curtain to his chair when we weren’t watching? I never managed to work out. But as more and more audience members came up and the magic kept happening, the disbelief was palpable. There was no way he could just keep doing this. And no way he could have that many plants in the room.
In the end, I found myself wanting to go back to one of Silven’s future shows on the tour. I wanted to see if what he did was exactly the same every time – if he was so attuned to his audience that he knew actually what they were going to say and what they were going to do. Or, the more likely option, that he really was bouncing off what the audience said, feeding off their energy and connection to come up with genuinely new and novel material every night. I suspect even if I did, I’d never truly work out what Silven’s tricks were. He was simply one step ahead at all times.
The thing about magic shows is that at least half the audience is going to go into the show trying to work out how the tricks are done and what’s behind the illusion. They essentially want to unmask the magic of the mentalist. The true power of the performer thus lies not in the tricks themselves, but rather in convincing the doubters that they really do have magic in them. And for that, Scott Silven, you won a lot of people in the Playhouse over.