The cramped theatrette of the Spring Street is hardly the place for magic to bloom. It's dingy, poorly-lit, and for the higher rows, it's near impossible to get a good view of what's transpiring on stage. But bloom magic does, in no small part thanks to the finely honed talents of Messrs Hocking, Sharma and Edward – otherwise billed, as they repeatedly remind the crowd, as the Gentlemen of Deceit.
From the get-go, it's clear that Deceit is positioned as a magic act in a world of its own; it straddles the gap between expert sleight-of-hand and a welcoming self-deprecation, that's rare in pieces as polished as this. That's not to say that the conceit of distracting the audience with deliberate crumminess down-pat is entirely novel. Still, the decision to draw the audience's attention time and time again to the professional trickery of TV magicians, or the nebulous form of magic in itself feels like a bit of a misstep; it's impossible not to begin peering through their illusions, as they seem to bid you do, in the hopes of spotting the loopholes or the tricks to the props they're using. Nor does this repeated maxim go anywhere concrete: the trio seem to mention their penchant for pure deceit simply as a throw-back to the fact their act is also a comedic one, and as such, isn't bound to be particularly reverent, polished, or ground-breaking in its revelation of how these illusions function; not in the way other magic shows profess they'll be.
(Still: their occasional, carefully-planned demonstration of how certain tricks work – that bit wherein a volunteer is asked on stage, while the audience watches how she's fooled – provides welcome laughs, and sets off more elusive as tricks as impressively superior in comparison.)
What the show lacks for in thematic clarity, it more than makes up for in thrilling illusions and a sizeable helping of charisma. Hocking, Sharma and Edward occupy the space turn-by-turn to perform their own specific set of illusions. At times, the staging feels clumsy, particularly when all three are clustered together; there's not enough room for them to tramp about, among the scattered cards and boxes, or for an illusion performed in the background to another performer's speech, to receive the sort of attention pull it ought to. No matter, no matter – the group are in fine form, offering up card tricks and rope tricks, and the compelling and impossible involvement of the audience in their selecting cards or letters that'll reappear in later illusions. At one point, the use of a hand-held camera allows the audience a better look at Sharma's teleportation of coins from one part of a table, to join a collection on the other side. (Mind, the more skeptical are apt to pick out the grainy quality of the camera as explanation for the doctoring of the vid. But then again, the skeptical shouldn't really be at a show that requires you to suspend your disbelief). One other particularly fine manipulation involves a balloon animal and a paper bag; and it's Hocking's winning personality that transforms the black humour laced through this trick, to something accessible to both adult and child alike.
Most crucially, when it comes to the necessary magic of stage presence, the Gentlemen of Deceit have it in spades. They're humble enough not to rely upon their easy, immediate connection with the audience when it comes to performing their tricks, nor do they treat the viewers as a paying crowd from whom they're separated.
Magic, the group seem to imply, may be bullshit; but it's a fun sort of bullshit, and we'd like to pull you into the heart of it.
And that sort of candid enthusiasm with which the subject matter's broached – alongside the illusions that, however familiar, are made fun again by the warmth with which they're approached – is reason enough for this reviewer to return to Deceit's set for a repeat viewing.
A Modern Deception presents
Gentlemen of Deceit
Venue: Spring Street Conference Centre | 1 Spring St, Melbourne
Dates: 27 Mar – 19 Apr, 2014
Tickets: $18 – $23
Part of the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival