Steve Cohen's Chamber Magic
Langham Hilton hotel, London, King's Room Theatre
Is this the perfect magic show? If "perfection' means to state a clear aim and then to fulfil that aim with unerring accuracy, then yes, quite possibly, it is. So let us first be clear what the show is all about. “Before the days of radio and television,” runs the official programme for the show, “wealthy patrons would regularly invite entertainers into their homes, to delight small gatherings of family and friends. In those sophisticated, friendly environs, the living room became the stage, and the audience looked gleefully on, mere inches from the show”. Steve Cohen, largely inspired by the "salon' magic of such heroes as Hofzinser and Houdin, aims to re-create this experience for today's audiences. Bullseye!
Trampling over just about every rule in the book, Steve offers an engaging mix of close-up card magic and hard-core "Supermind' mentalism. First he promises to deliver “Magic of the hands, magic of the heart and magic of the mind.” And then he delivers on his promise.
To relate specific details of the programme would be unhelpful, and spoil the surprises for those intending to get along to the Langham. The card work is certainly of high standard and good pedigree. Those watching with a strictly technical eye will see smooth, adept and experienced hands executing moderate-to-advanced sleights with practised ease, thereby accomplishing locations, revelations and transpositions in a suitably impressive fashion.
Those less pre-occupied with analytical dissection will see what the layman sees: "now way no how' magic performed with flair and neat flecks of New York wit. If Steve ever wished to display finger-flinging dexterity, he could probably hold his own. Instead, he chooses to entertain and intrigue people with impossible mysteries, keeping the technique as invisible as it should be.
What impressed me most of all was his incredible clarity of presentation. Every word clear as a bell, every gesture pertinent, every theme well explained and easily grasped.
Steve puts the cards away and proceeds to Part II of the show, a tour de force of contemporary mentalism. He reads minds. People read his mind. Metal bends, watches go haywire, and strange energy forces are manifested. This section includes a drawing duplication that is, without doubt, the ne plus ultra of drawing duplications. I don't know how he did it, and while I would probably kill to know how, my blissful ignorance allowed me to see it as it should be seen: a bona-fide miracle.
A list of effects is not a show, and Steve Cohen knows this better than anyone. His showmanship cannot be faulted. The pace is well-judged, and moves smoothly through different gears as appropriate. He can be funny if he wants to, on or off script. He shares much about his background, personal experiences and beliefs, and builds excellent rapport with his audience.
For the purposes of this write-up, I was careful to take along a Muggle and gain her view of the proceedings. In her view, all of the magic, every single last drop of it, was “phenomenal”. Her only criticism was that at times she felt Steve had been too slick, too much on "auto-pilot'. As she pointed out, it's hard to warm to a bullet-proof hero who never fails, and who has the air of one who knows he will never fail. For what it's worth, I think this particular opinion says more about my Muggle friend than it does about Steve, who I think judged the tone perfectly, and did engender plenty of warmth and audience rapport. Different eyes, different views.
King's Room, Langham Hilton hotel, Portland St, London. October 2nd to the 19th, Wednesday to Saturday nights inclusive, two shows per night: 8pm and 10pm. Tickets are 40 per head for muggles and 25 for magicians. Magicians are welcome, but try to bring muggles along with you. Seating is limited so reservations are essential: telephone 020 7636 1000 and ask for Chamber Magic. The official Chamber Magic website is www.customagic.com