What constitutes a successful magic trick?
It’s a question that tends to rattle around the mind after seeing Steven ‘Dynamo’ Frayne’s latest arena production Seeing Is Believing. While definitely an entertaining spectacle (and it would be patently untrue to claim the majority of the crowd left without being wowed), it simply doesn’t seem to measure up to the scope of the UK magician’s prior productions or accomplishments.
There are several possible reasons for this sense of disappointment.
The most obvious contender is that Dynamo’s show was simply subject to an unrealistic standard of anticipation. Which is a definite possibility. In recent years, Frayne’s television show Magician Impossible and his headline-grabbing stunts (walking across the Thames, levitating in Rio De Janeiro) have positioned him as one of the most celebrated illusionists in the world today. But, there’s no known extenuating circumstances that would truly explain why the same ingenuity and bravura that fuelled those projects would be absent in this one.
A genuine concern that arises over the course of the production is that Frayne simply hasn’t figured out how to translate his considerable skill and imagination to an arena environment. To date, his most famous work has been related to public interactions in the street or massive stunts near celebrated landmarks. Frankly, neither of those breeds of illusions are easily translated to an arena context. It is, for example, truly baffling to see a man levitate in front of a public landmark with no sign of apparatus or assistance – but decidedly less so seeing a man levitate on a darkened stage.
There are several tricks that feel too big or too small to really work on the level that Frayne has chosen for Seeing Is Believing. The most dazzling feats are usually one-on-one interactions with the crowd that are being filmed and projected onto the big screen. This begs the question of how the experience of seeing Frayne live differs from seeing them him on television (outside of the increased chance of being invited to interact with the man directly). When he does concoct a trick that’s appropriately arena-sized, it’s all too easy to see the figurative wires and pulleys.
Which really starts to highlight the actual problem with tonight’s performance. Frayne is not a gifted entertainer. Now, to be clear, he is absolutely gifted and he is unquestionably entertaining. But, in regards to the art of storytelling and entertainment that are wrapped up in illusionism, he’s little more than competent. This shortcoming rears its head throughout many different aspects of the show and, in doing so, transforms what could have been a transportive production into a merely diverting one. Even with the occasional brilliant trick, Dynamo’s show feels predictable.
For example; one can often guess the reveals of his tricks before he actually reaches them. In actual fact, a volunteer from the audience did exactly that just prior to Dynamo’s grand reveal. It’s instances like this that prompt the question – what constitutes a successful magic trick? Because, undoubtedly, the mechanics of the trick in question were ingenious – but the outcome of those mechanics followed such conventional magical storytelling routes as to have been predicted by most of those in attendance.
Then, conversely, there are tricks wherein the result should be astonishing – but the methods are so transparent as to make such fantastic conclusions feel somewhat hollow. Despite all of his technical and creative brilliance as an architect of illusions, Frayne lacks the performative skill and storytelling to truly create a sustained experience of wonder and disbelief. This is particularly borne out by the literal narrative through-line he’s decided to weave through his show of his coming of age as a magician – which feels too much like a cliched superhero origin story.
(Frayne’s enthusiastic reveal of his childhood love of Spiderman has an unfortunate side-effect of highlighting just how much his own production’s narrative draws from that hero’s origin story.)
That all being said, there is hope for a better work in Dynamo’s future. When he strays from broad magician tropes and really gets specific with his work, you can see glimpses of something truly wondrous – a show that humanely and sincerely explains why the world needs magic and illusion by combining personal and political perspectives on the form while also providing superlative, transformative examples of what it can accomplish. At the moment, Frayne unfortunately lacks the storytelling nous to really make that idea work in this arena context. With time, he may acquire it.
Watch this space?
DYNAMO: SEEING IS BELIEVING
2016 Australian Tour
Sydney 5 –6 November | Qudos Bank Arena
Brisbane 8 – 9 November | Entertainment Centre
Melbourne 12 – 13 November | Rod Laver Arena
Adelaide 16 – 17 November | Entertainment Centre
Perth 21 – 24 November | Perth Arena
Tour details and Booking: www.frontiertouring.com/dynamo