Wonders review by Laura Hartnell
Scott Silven’s ‘Wonders’ is a slick show from a world-famous illusionist, full of impressive mentalist tricks and grounded in childhood wonder. Melbourne’s Famous Speigeltent is the perfect venue for it – mirrored walls and deep reds adorn the tent where 300 strangers all sit expectantly. SIlven’s mission, he says, is to make us feel connected to one another, to form a sense of community through the psychological trickery he will play on us over the next hour or so.
Illusionists are interesting beasts. Some see them as a step up – or at least a step to the side – of the traditional rabbit-out-of-a-hat magician. They don’t use cards or saw anyone in half; nothing appears from out of nowhere and nothing disappears. Instead, their tricks hang on their ability to read and manipulate the human mind and its behaviours, its habits and its weak points. Such a thing sounds a bit creepy, and indeed part of the mentalist’s job is to make you feel comfortable and at home, rather than shanghaied or manipulated. Silven strives valiantly to win the trust of his audience, but while his tricks are undeniably impressive, his manner lands a little cold. His onstage persona drips with a sort of private schoolboy privilege that left me wary and cynical, but perhaps that is my own country schoolgirl coming out to judge.
Many of the audience appear to be feeling more connected throughout the performance, as strangers exchange pieces of paper and the occasional eye contact as tricks reverberate throughout the room. It is true that audience members speak and work together more than an ordinary theatre show, but I don’t know that it achieves the heart-warming sense of community Silven aims for. He stands onstage looking out, asking audience members some questions in order to reveal words they have written secretly on pieces of paper. He invites people onstage for similar trickery, often involving the audience in the process of randomising the trick so prove there are no games afoot. He is respectful and charming but remains aloof, which leaves an uneasiness hanging in the air that never really seems to shift. His attempts at narrativising the show with a scene from his childhood that evokes throughout the performance doesn’t really evoke a sense of wonder, but awkwardness.
The setting of an old attic looks beautiful in the space, with old leather winged chairs and green bank lamps on wooden furniture evoking Sherlock Holmes and old fairytale houses. The lighting similarly aids Silven’s narrative and tricks, with soft lighting helping him delve back into his memories, and the obligatory blinders and spotlights hitting audience and performance at just the right moment. His most successful attempt at connection is when he asks us all to close our eyes and imagine images in the night sky – there is a beautiful and elusive peace that drifts over the audience, the energy of which Silven transforms into excited energy as the trick continues, leaving us dazzled and impressed.
Despite these wobbles in persona, his tricks are incredible – well-paced, surprising and often delightful. The 300-strong audience had a great time and, really, in our current age of despair that is decidedly lacking in wonder, what else could you hope for?