In his publicity material, magician Sylar (a.k.a. Bogdan Mangu, originally from Romania) announces he can be booked for weddings, private parties, corporate events, theatre and world domination.
This Waterside show was signposted beforehand as a psychological magic show. It's a moot point whether we witnessed a dozen or so tricks, or just three or four. Having arrived on stage in an unusually - and agreeably – low-key way, sidling in via the audience's door, Sylar began by pushing a bottle into a paper bag, making it disappear and then crumpling up the bag. I might reasonably be thought crazy were I to claim that for me this was the highlight of the show, but a tiny bit of me feels that it was. His was an attractive stage persona; a lithe, spade-bearded figure in blue coat and Bing Crosby shoes, curiously resembling photos of Fyodor Dostoyevski as a young man. Notably polite towards his audience, unlike some magicians I've seen who have apparently got a kick from humiliating them, he had them up on stage in a steady stream of ones and twos, his patter wryly humorous and self-deprecating. After the show, there he was in the foyer, posing for selfies, chatting animatedly.
The participants were invited typically to draw an object, pull a playing card from a pack, choose a favourite football player, tear a piece off the corner of a card, select numbers from a whiteboard; and then Sylar after a bit of banter and byplay would miraculously come up with the answer/card/player/missing piece/total – once via a folded scrap of paper concealed in an ostensibly unblemished lemon. No awkward blunders, all very neat and clever, audience suitably confounded etc, etc.
And yet bar the disappearing bottle and some transmogrifying fizzy drinks at the end, every trick was a variation on the same thing and always small scale so that those towards the rear in the sell-out 170-strong audience had to stretch their necks to follow the sleight-of-hand. There was something old-fashioned about our conjurer's insistence on employing sheets of paper and pens and table tops when behind him loomed a giant screen, wholly unused, that with a bit of tech savvy and the wave of a wand might have cut through the neck-craning. The show, too, was short on colour and bangs and pizzazz. I longed for our conjurer to ditch his pseudo-psychology, forget the tapping into kinetic telepathy and instead major on top hats, white rabbits, festoons of streamers, firecrackers, Indian rope tricks and platinum blonde assistants being sawn in half with buckets of blood as we screamed and fainted in the aisles. All very unreasonable of me, of course, given the show's title. I also didn't think the audience had quite been given full value for money by an hour and a quarter's running time plus interval, though I must be fair and say that people around me seemed pretty satisfied with their night out.
One of the things that kept me going until the end was the expectation of a grand finale illusion – but no, Sylar departed as quietly, almost meekly, as he'd appeared. Four members of the audience separately told me they had seen him perform at weddings. I read somewhere that he's wanting to break out from function, table-top magic into theatre shows like this one. He has the personality, so that may be the tricky bit covered. If he can take a hard look at the variety of content and presentation of his act, then with cloak and wand and starry hat he might just be onto something. World domination may take a little longer, though.