Theatre Review: The Illusionists 1903 – Arts Centre State Theatre, Melbourne (02.01.15)

As I entered the Arts Centre’s State Theatre with a hoard of people old and young, I could imagine a time long past where the magicians, illusionists, and freaks of the world held centre stage as they shocked and tantalised their audiences worldwide. A time without t.v or internet, where the prime form of entertainment stood in front of you in all their grandeur. ‘The Illusionists 1903’ propelled us back into an era where magic and mystique hung thick in the air, and nothing was quite as it seemed.

A personal fan of all things supernatural and magical, I was particularly intrigued by this new troupe and the various talents each individual performer possessed. ‘The Clairvoyants’ claim to possess powers of the mind, whilst ‘The Conjuress’ performs illusions that tantalise, and truly have to be seen to be believed. ‘The Eccentric’ delights with his vaudeville style of silent comedy, and ‘The Escapologist’ performs death defying stunts that has the audience on the edge of their seats. With all this in mind, I was overly excited as I sat down, the lights went black, and the curtain was raised. The first things that stood out to me were the detailed costumes and the beautiful lighting, created perfectly to transport the audience into this magical world present on stage. Never did the theme derail from that beautiful golden age of magic, and the creative team should be greatly commended.

We are soon introduced to Dana Daniels, ‘The Charlatan’ who had the audience in hysterics with his individual style of comedic magic. Every time he walked on stage his presence would be met with laughter and sincere applause. As the show progressed we met The Immortal (Rick Thomas), and The Showman (Mark Kalin), both extremely influential in their field. Rick worked the audience like a true professional, building up anticipation before truly wowing the crowd with his clever illusions. Mark Kalin’s act with Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) in which he sawed her in half was a definite favourite, resulting in shocked faces audience wide. Another crowd favourite was performed by ‘The Grand Carlini’, created by puppet master extraordinaire Justo Thaus. Never before have I seen so much life, personality, and intricate movement put into a puppet, it made you feel as if you were watching a living/breathing human perform his classic style of magic. Krendl’s performance as ‘The Escapoligist’ had the audience truly tantalised. He was handcuffed upside down in a tank of water left with only a paperclip to unlock both his hands, and the shackles around his feet. With over three minutes immersed in the water, people were truly jumping off their seats, an act very well done.

‘The Illusionists 1903’ is a show that the entire family can enjoy. It really instills in you that sense of what it would have been like when the magicians of the world reigned supreme, and current technologies were but a distant speck in the future. Enjoy the show with an open mind, and leave the skeptic inside of you at the door. Laugh, applause, and allow yourself to be mesmerised by the performers in front of you, for we should all believe in a bit of magic from time to time.…