views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Neil Henry's Impossible
Cabaret Bar (The Vaults)
25th November 2014


Neil Henry

Photography provided by Mimetic Festival

I like a magic show with a hook, some kind of story to it. Something like Sean Smith's Mind What You Read - he themes the entire hour around a love of literature. Neil Henry's Impossible is based on a somewhat wider concept: he knows a bunch of seemingly impossible tricks and he's going to demonstrate those for us. As impressive as they are, that's less of a narrative and more of an explanation of what any good magic show should be about.

Henry kicks off by showing us what he won't do - bunnies in hats are apparently not his style - and performs a few traditional card tricks, getting the audience involved. He chooses participations at random, throwing a ball around and encouraging recipients to defer to another member of the audience if they really don't want to play. It's reassuring, but also admits that not everyone may enjoy his act, and that's a little self-defeating.

There's a lot of self-deprecation too, with Henry on one hand telling us his tricks are better than impossible, they're very nearly improbable and that will drive us crazy, and on the other, downplaying what he does. He's a personable chap, but is entitled to a lot more swagger than he actually displays given the sheer skill in his work. I've seen a lot of close up magic in my time and enjoy unpicking the mystery, but to Henry's credit, I couldn't figure out how he was doing it all.

One of Henry's tricks involves getting volunteers to pick cards and using tells to reveal which ones they've selected. Now, I knew he was using tells, that much was obvious, and tried to read the audience myself. I didn't get a single card right. Henry got them all quickly and without hesitation. Like I said, there's a lot of skill. When it comes to magic, sometimes an audience is prepared to forgive a few slips, but Henry never once has to fall back on this goodwill. He's clearly very experienced at what he does, and this shines through.

Every magician needs a calling card (and preferably not another card trick, I'm sorry, but I find it hard to get excited about them no matter how good), and Henry's closing number admittedly ticks all the boxes. Impressiveness? Tick. Potential of going wrong? Tick. Genuine peril? Tick, tick, tick. I'm not saying audiences are cruel, but if there's no peril, we're just not interested. (Okay, maybe we're a little sadistic. It's a mob rules thing.)

In a twist on the traditional ball under a cup trick, Henry invites an audience member to assist with mixing up the cups covering three discs - one of which has a rather sharp and painful looking spike coming up out of it. It may not sound that showy, but believe me, there's enough risk there to get the crowd gasping and screwing up their eyes, not entirely sure if they if they want to see what unfolds. I found myself compelled to keep looking - and although Henry had given me enough confidence in his talents by that point, I still found myself anxiously awaiting the big reveal. He builds tension well.

It's a rather bold title, but Henry does deliver on his promise. You can try all you like, but you'll never work out how he's doing it, his tricks are impossible to unravel. He has a very traditional style and a warm, welcoming personality - in that respect, he has a lot in common with Steve Truglia. A little too trad for my tastes, but if card tricks are your bag, you will absolutely adore Henry's work. The technical ability is faultless, it's just a shame that the packaging's a little worn.

Neil Henry's Impossible ran on 25th November 2014 at The Vaults, as part of Mimetic Festival.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee)

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