views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Card Shark Show
The Courthouse
14th March 2014


To describe this as merely a magic show would be misleading, The Card Shark Show is not 75 minutes of smoke and mirrors with white rabbits being pulling out of hats. Instead, it's a lecture on the history of card sharps, as told from the point of view of a magician. Dressed with a nod to mobsters, Steve Truglia tells us about the different tricks employed by card cheats over the years, and demonstrates some of these live on stage, with an incredible sleight of hand.

Of course, being an Associate of the Inner Magic Circle, Truglia can't give too much away. This is no Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed. For one thing, there are no sequins, this is a relatively low key production. Truglia does show us a modern day Kepplinger Holdout (a very slick piece of kit) but apart from that, he never reveals a secret, only hints at broad ideas.

Now, we know that Truglia can't read minds - any illusions we may have are shattered by a frank confession - he just listens carefully and looks for tells. Simple, really. But when he invites the audience to play with him, we try to follow his technique and can't pull it off, and yet he gets it right every time. It may be a matter of psychology, but it's damned impressive nonetheless. As well as a history buff, stuntman and magician, Truglia is a born showman.

With that said, The Card Shark Show does unfortunately suffer from the layout of its latest venue, The Courthouse Hotel. This luxury hotel's screening room is one of the smaller of its type in central London (albeit not the very smallest, take the Covent Garden Hotel's one as an example). The seats are fixed down and only ever so slightly raked. Anywhere other than the first row, you have to rely on people slouching into their seats for you to get a proper view - believe me, this is a venue I know well. It's comfy, but just not graduated enough.

Director Joanie Spina uses a camera focussed on Truglia's hands to try and tackle the issue, and to a large extent, this does help. When the screen at the front of the room isn't showing us grand monochrome cityscapes or a film short about a famous cheat, it broadcasts real-time detail of what Truglia is doing. His sleeves are deliberately rolled up, and the camera zooms in, so if you don't have the best view of the table from where you're seated, you can still follow the action.

However, close-up magic does lose some of its power when it's not close-up. Ideally, this show would suit being staged in the round - one of its previous homes was The Royal Institution of Great Britain, a venue more suited to the piece. Truglia is clearly very talented and personable, but the layout of the Courthouse puts him at an immediate disadvantage, forcing him to work hard to energise the piece when his audience are so far back.

Crowd participation livens the room and, as Truglia states, he's not one of those performers who gets the laughs by humiliating anyone. If given the chance, do take to the stage. The top price tickets are ambitiously priced for this venue, but the more you play along, the more you'll feel you're getting your money's worth - and there are some deals out there if you know where to look.

If you fancy something a bit different to a night at the theatre and you're into your card games, Truglia is worth seeing in action. It's just a shame that unless you stump up for a premium ticket and get there early enough to grab a front row seat, you might feel you've been dealt a bad hand.

The Card Shark Show ran from 15th December 2012 to 22nd March 2013 at the Mayfair Hotel, transferred to the Royal Institution of Great Britain from 5th April 2013 to 20th December 2013 and reopened on 24th January at the Courthouse, where it is due to run until 26th September 2014.

Nearest tube station: Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central, Victoria)

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