Clocking up four years together, magic troupe Gentlemen of Deceit returns to the Melbourne Comedy Festival in this new show directed by Daniel Lammin. The group comprises of Luke Hocking, Alex de la Rambelje and Vyom Sharma, all sharing equal spotlight.
Although they do acknowledge the longevity of magic, and one of the sketches is a nod to Harry Houdini , they deliver magic in a way that is very modern. The presentation is almost casual. Making themselves approachable to the audience, they bring us up very close to the inner process of practicing their craft. This makes them almost transparent but not quite. As they say, they always have to stay one step ahead of the audience.
This show takes place in the Meeting Room of Trades Hall. This is a tiny room in a huge bustling venue, and the stage space is tiny too. It takes a bare and stripped-down approach to visuals. Just three men who could blend in with the audience dressed in a formal but downbeat manner against a black curtain. There are bright red balloons at the start. But they soon get popped and the emphasis falls onto the tricks.
After the first big trick, the troupe apparently explain how they did it. It all seems a bit far-fetched and there is the feeling they are giving us a bit of a tease. That sets the theme for the rest of the show. They talk in a very open and honest way about the magician’s craft, making us feel as if we are being let behind the curtain, so to speak, but never quite revealing their secrets.
This magic show is unusual in that it brings the audience so close up to the processes. It is a rejection of traditional concepts. Many of us have probably seen magic where the performer is silent throughout, fostering a sense of mystery. Or alternately where they play an evasive character. In this show, interestingly, the performers provide a narrative on-and-off throughout on the job of the magician. It is almost as if we are receiving a partial tutorial on magic. Also the performers are very honest, and come across as “everymen”. It would not be a good show for those who like the romance and mystery of traditional magic. But it might be a good one, though, for those interesting in starting some magic training, or who simply want to see an insight into magic.
These men who are both magicians and comedians present a variety of tricks. Part of it involves “guesswork” of the contents of envelopes, audience members’ names and the like. They claim to have collected data, but there is the feeling they are pulling our legs when they say that. There is the ever-popular illusionism. Although Hocking expresses a dislike for card tricks, cards are still incorporated in novel ways. One of the highlights of the night involves a lemon and a walnut. This seems to be one of the most ingenious tricks.
The performers discuss how a magician’s job is to exploit expectations. After all, they said, we are going to take things at face value. They give this amusing analogy- if we see what we think is a brown cow, we assume it is a brown cow and don’t walk round the other side and check! They keep both adults and children in their focus. While adults are invited on stage for fun tricks, we see a little boy join in during a trick with a Harry Potter theme.
Audience participation is a huge part of the show. Some audience members really seem to become the stars. Here we see what a fluid and precarious show it is. It is possible for so many things to go wrong. The performers are improvising with people who are- well we will have to assume they are!- randomly selected. But that is, of course, part of the fun of it. One of the key words of this show is adaptation. There seems to be a lot of adapting to different situations. Working with all sorts of people while performing their tricks, they need to be flexible.
At one point the audience participation is double-layered. They invite an audience member up and ask him, in turn, to invite another audience member. By giving the first man cue cards they make him, for a short time, almost like a de facto member of their group. And they manage to pop a magic trick into this segment as well. Some glitches are seen in the performance. But for the most part they carry it with smooth good cheer, and by always metaphorically having more tricks up their sleeves.
The performers all have very, very good diction. If I was to pick a favourite I would say Vyom Sharma. He is very consummate and smooth in what he does, and comes across as the most serious. Alex de la Rambelje has a nice gentle persona, and Luke Hocking has a lot of presence. However, sadly, I think sometimes the comedy aspect unravelled a bit. On occasions there was a bit of over-confidence. The performers seemed to be taking the unpredictable and precarious nature of the show a bit too lightly. Then when things did not go quite according to plan, embarrassment was palpable. At the end of the show Alex de la Rambelje and Luke Hocking were standing there with pained expressions while Sharma had to continue as if nothing was wrong.
The sound system is way too loud. It is not used that often, but the amplifiers screech. Music plays thunderously just before the show starts, hardly encouraging the audience to relax or focus, and at one point during the show starts up abruptly then stops. I think the problem is that this venue is way too tiny for that level.
This is a very dynamic show with some strong aspects. Not a highly theatrical show, and free and quite improvised in its expression, it is a good show for people looking for something a little unique this year at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.