Houdin was a 19th-century French magician (Harry Houdini tweaked his stage name), while Méliès was the man who turned moving images into fantasy cinema.
Six performers appear as assorted characters throughout, led by The Watchmaker (Martin Hyder), who acts as something of a cabaret MC and narrator, tracing the history of illusionists and charlatans while performing a handful of basic sleight-of-hand tricks.
Two plotlines struggle to emerge, meant to illustrate the differences between fate, coincidence, and deliberate detour.
In 1984, a young man (Brian Martin) returns a bag he has stolen from its owner (Bettrys Jones), unaware that it has been ‘played’, while a Parisian bodega becomes the focus of two important eras of illusion, 1844 and 1888.
Cleverly translated from the French by Waleed Akhtar, the work is a carousel of ideas that eventually spins off its axis.
But Tom Jackson Greaves works wonders on a set that consists of little more than a long velvet curtain and a small raised podium as the cast of six switch clothes, accents, ages, genders and eras with dizzying and (almost) perfect ease. , despite the recalcitrant accessories. .
Ephemeral but nice.
- The Art of Illusion at Hampstead Theater until January 28 Tickets: 020 7722 9301
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