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Review: Wonders at The Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne

By Rosie Niven

I know that I’m probably biased writing this review, because I’m the exact kind of person that magicians pick on when they want someone to believe their trick. I am incredibly susceptible to mind games and slight of hand, so it’s easy to win me over when it comes to magic. Wonders is no different. As part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, magician and mentalist Scott Silven takes us on a journey through his mind and his childhood to explore human connection and empathy. Even if you’re not like me, it’s a great practice on connecting with those around us and trying to understand human behaviour and emotion.

The use of antique props and set pieces (world maps and dusty brasserie) paired with early 1900s jazz music called back to a time where commercial magic was booming, and before magicians such as Penn and Teller broke the fourth wall and let us in on the magicians’ secrets. Walking into the Spiegeltent, you’re immediately transported into that world, and in doing so leave your disbelief at the door. The many-mirrored tent also aided in bouncing light around the space and into the audiences’ eyes, shielding Silven’s tricks. This basis of cultural nostalgia extends into personal nostalgia, as Silven shares with us stories of his childhood and uses them to gain rapport with the audience. Vague anecdotes allow the audience to project their own memories and nostalgia onto the work, making them more emotionally invested and therefore more open to suggestion.

Silven doesn’t specialize in visual magic, so don’t expect rabbits out of hats, magic wands, or the like. Instead you’re in for a different kind of magical experience, one that relies on emotion and psychic effect. Silven repeatedly asks the audience to ‘send’ him the answer via mental projection, apparently pulling our answers straight from our minds. This makes the big reveals more of an individual experience rather than a group one, as our only indication that his psychic powers have worked is the surprised face of the audience member pulled up to participate.

Scott Silven clearly embraced a cinematic flair for this production, using lighting and sound effects to not only create an ambience that allows us to immerse ourselves in the magic, but also helps misdirect and guide the audience to the answers that Silven wants them to see. Bright flashes of light and fun props sent the audiences’ eyes one way while Silven’s cleverly constructed illusion takes place on another part of the stage. Silven’s charismatic performance is enjoyable to watch, although at points the tone and pace felt quite monotonous: the repetitive guise of getting a trick wrong, feigning his embarrassment, to then reveal another trick beyond our expectations, while exciting at first, became formulaic and a little predictable towards the end.

The best way to experience Wonders is to be a part of the action – not only do you feel a childlike excitement at getting called up on stage to participate, but being part of the trick means it really does feel like magic. There’s no chance of you seeing him switch out your card, or read what you’ve written down. So if you’re going to see Wonders, shoot that hand up when he asks for an assistant. I promise you’ll have an incredible time, and you’ll truly feel like magic exists, if only for a second.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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