views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Mind What You Read
The Phoenix Artist Club
30th July 2014

★★★★☆

Sean Smith

Photography supplied by Sean Smith

Now, us critics aren't exactly difficult creatures to spot. We're always scanning the room, systems on red alert and often we have a notepad in hand. Given Sean Smith's act Mind What You Read is almost entirely based on his powers of observation and his ability to pick out tells, it's unsurprising he had me pegged from the very start. What was a little more unexpected was that he invited me up on stage - getting a reviewer involved in a trick just oozes confidence.

It turns out that this self-assuredness isn't misplaced - Smith really knows his craft. Many of the tricks he's selected for this show revolve around old-fashioned books. If you haven't brought any of your own (I'm a Kindle girl, me), don't worry, Smith has stocked up on a few of his favourites.

The highlight has to be when Smith asked a member of the audience to show us the book he had been reading and to think of a question about it. Smith then not only proceeded to correctly guess what that question was, but also answered it, providing an off-the-cuff literary analysis. He has the so-called magic down to a fine art - whilst we know he's reading us, it's not obvious exactly how - but he's also a wordsmith as much as he is a magician and that's what elevates this act from a typical parlour magic show to something a bit more special.

Whilst not everything goes to plan, Smith's hit rate garners noises of admiration and plenty of applause. The hypnosis element to the show feels slightly drawn out and just isn't as captivating as the rest of the piece, perhaps because it only involves one "victim" and it's harder for us to believe in it. But Smith in action is never less than engaging.

Much like Steve Truglia in his rather more expensive Card Shark Show, Smith is constantly trying to fool us but explains how he's getting away with it. He's not just trying to impress us, he's trying to educate us. You can tell he has spent time teaching English and, actually, his show is all the stronger for it. Smith knows how to hold a room and well, his love of literature is the hook for Mind What You Read. It's not just a collection of his favourite close-up tricks, everything is carefully and intelligently chosen to fit in with a clear theme.

Ignoring the £50 disparity, the main difference between the Card Shark Show and Mind What You Read is the size of the venue. Laid out cabaret-style, the Phoenix Artist Club is an intimate little space and that's what you need for close-up magic to hold any power. We can all see and appreciate what Smith is doing and the audience builds a rapport with each other, part of the same unique evening, sharing a moment which won't ever be repeated in quite the same way.

It's all very well put together, with a clear concept, excellent execution and a laudable adherence to the running time (always crucial for a fringe show). When you have so much audience participation, it can be a challenge to stick to your billed slot but not for Smith - he gets this bang on. He claims he can hypnotise people, and while he did manage to guess which card I was holding, the words in this review are my own, and they're all fairly glowing ones at that. If they aren't mine, well, he must have planted a hypnotic suggestion and that's got to be equally - if not more - impressive than a four-star review.

Mind What You Read opened on 29th July and runs until 31st July 2014 at the Phoenix Artist Club, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)



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