Mind Mangler review – Magic Goes Wrong spin-off is all fun and mind games

Stage mentalism – the world of Derren Brown and David Blaine, with its puffed-up mystique and pretence to danger – is there for the mickey-taking. Its best proponents, like Brown himself, openly acknowledge as much. While we await the satirical take that burrows close to the artform’s bone, there’s plenty to enjoy in this distant-from-the-bone send-up from Mischief Theatre. A spin-off from the company’s West End show Magic Goes Wrong, Mind Mangler finds our deep-voiced, shallow-talent host – he’s basso, but not so profundo – botching mind-reading tricks while his life collapses around him.

“Collapsing around him” is quite the Mischief trademark, and there are flashes of the company’s knockabout slapstick here, as the Mangler trips up the stairs and the wrong objects bend when he rubs a spoon. It’s a good gag, that one, and there are more, as our host (played by Henry Lewis) fails to mind-read our names, struggles to heal a woman’s eyesight with his hypnotic skills – and strives to rebrand those failures as successes using melodramatic commentary alone.

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My caveat is that it’s often the same couple of gags (he’s crap at magic; his life’s a mess) over and again. We get it so much in the first quarter, one wonders where the show has left to go. The answer is: bona fide magic. Soon, the Mangler’s tricks start working, which makes minimal narrative sense but gives the real-world audience a bit more bang for their buck.

For anyone who’s seen Derren Brown and co, the Mind Mangler’s feats, while accomplished, don’t take the breath away. As in the West End show, there’s little jeopardy when his hand is poised to slap down on concealed broken glass. By this stage, we know that nothing is to be taken at face value. I’d prefer a defter balance between the silly and the maybe-serious, but that’s not Mischief’s style. Here, jokes are over-telegraphed: the Mangler’s domestic strife more scream than subtext; the plant in the audience made so obvious, he might as well be painted in chlorophyll. Best just to enjoy the broad comedy of an act who’s one part telepathic to two-parts telepathetic.