Tag Archives: Alexis Michalik

The Art of Illusion


Hampstead Theatre

THE ART OF ILLUSION at the Hampstead Theatre


The Art of Illusion

“This is true ensemble playing, where no one actor is the lead, but where each actor plays every part as though it were a starring role”


There are many illusions at work in the wonderful Art Of Illusion by Alexis Michalik, and you will enjoy watching this tale of magic tricks unfold. Waleed Akhtar’s lively translation of the French original, together with brilliant ensemble work by the actors under the direction of Tom Jackson Greaves, means the playing time of one hundred minutes flies by. It helps, too, that the production is staged in the more intimate Hampstead Theatre downstairs. It’s a space ideally suited for a play that has to be seen in close up by the audience, to succeed. The flexibility of the space allows a cast of characters from different times and places to constantly change right in front of your eyes — a sort of magic all by itself. And oh yes — let’s not forget the sounds of high stakes soccer matches that are a constant background to the action. On more than one occasion, it’s soccer that literally saves the day for our intrepid magicians in this play.

Soccer and magic tricks? What kind of a story is Michalik telling in The Art Of Illusion? We begin by thinking it’s an unlikely love story between a lover of mathematics who has come to believe in fate, and a petty thief who has stolen her bag. When December decides, on a whim, to return the stolen bag to April (yes, those really are their names) an extraordinary story unfolds. A Watchmaker is presiding over a tale that goes back several hundred years and connects seemingly unconnected people. What starts as a random encounter between two people turns out to be anything but. And as part of the magic of The Art of Illusion, this is also a story about how magic morphs into the tricks of early film making. We get to see how one Georges Méliès uses his knowledge of stage magic to produce film magic. And that’s just one intriguing tale told by this medley of extraordinary characters who begin as traveling conjurers and mutate into inventors of film. The biggest trick of all is watching how Michalik weaves his stories of 1776, 1828, 1871,1984 and 2000 together. Watching The Art Of Illusion is to marvel at the way in which the dramatist, as conjuror of time, mixes and matches all these different periods together while still moving the action forward. It’s ultimately all a gigantic act of illusion, starting with the magic tricks the actors perform to get the audience warmed up, to the way in which they transform from character to character. These character changes, often across gender and time periods, embody the same kind of effortless legerdemain in the acting, as the playwright manifests in his script.

There’s a lot, dramaturgically speaking, packed into The Art Of Illusion. The whole thing succeeds because every part of this production has been so carefully crafted, and fits together so well. Jackson Greaves has done sterling work in the direction and staging of this clever and engaging script, ably assisted by designer Simon Kenny. Matt Haskins and Yvonne Gilbert do great work with the lighting and sound, and there’s an “Illusion Consultant” (Ben Hart) on hand to assist with getting the magic tricks right. But the lion’s share of praise should go to the actors. Rina Fatania, Bettrys Jones, Martin Hyder, Norah Lopez Holden, Brian Martin and Kwaku Mills keep up a relentless pace, yet each character they portray is so clearly defined. This is true ensemble playing, where no one actor is the lead, but where each actor plays every part as though it were a starring role. The closest anyone comes to stealing a scene is probably Rina Fatania, whose portrayal of a mouthy fifteen year old video game player, is a great conclusion to the dazzling tapestry of characters in this play.

The Art Of Illusion is playing now at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until January 28th. Don’t miss it.



Reviewed on 3rd January 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Robert Day


Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022
Sons of the Prophet | ★★★★ | December 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Intra Muros

Intra Muros

Park Theatre

Intra Muros

Intra Muros

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 5th April 2019


“a thoroughly bland and disappointing ninety minutes”


The premise for Alexis Michalik’s play is a simple one: a director, an actor and a social worker go into a maximum security prison to hold a drama class for the inmates. Only two prisoners turn up. The class goes ahead anyway, and truths are revealed. It is described in the press release as ‘a captivating and darkly comic exploration of life, within the walls’, and, at a time when knife crime is on the rise in London, and just under 79,000 men are currently being held in British prisons (figure from Home Office website) this seemed like a brave and timely piece of theatre for the Park to be staging. Instead, what a thoroughly bland and disappointing ninety minutes it was.

In the programme notes, Michalik describes meeting some maximum security prisoners and how this meeting intrigued him sufficiently to lead him to write this play. One can only wish that this interest had led him to do some more thorough research. Among the more idiotic plot points of this drama was the fact that a child was conceived between a maximum security prisoner and a visitor during visiting time. As someone who has spent a great deal of time visiting prisons in the UK over the past three years, this reviewer can testify to the complete impossibility of this premise. Similarly, the idea of three lay people with little or no prison experience behind them being left alone with two violent offenders is absurd, as is the fact that the director would (a) be allowed and (b) have the utter front to ask an allegedly violent offender to re-enact the circumstances that led him to his imprisonment. There are some extraordinary companies and organisations creating drama with prisoners and ex-offenders in this country (Clean Break and Synergy Theatre Project to name two); it might have been an idea to engage with them.

The play is translated from the French, so it may well be that some of these issues are explained by cultural difference, but if you are clearly locating the action in the UK – Norwich and Durham are name-checked – this is basic stuff.

The drama opens with the director (played, with meta-theatrical symmetry, by the director, Che Walker) asking the audience directly, ‘What does theatre mean to you?’. The first audience member to answer replied ‘Storytelling’, and here, alas, this play fell short. It was impossible to understand why this story was being told, and also, particularly in the second half, it was not easy to follow such story as there was, as it was being told. Che’s director-character also made much of the power of emotion, and again, despite numerous on-stage breakdowns, the performances here, by and large, remained resolutely surface and unconnected throughout. Victor Gardener, as Angel, brought some welcome gravitas to the stage, but the characterisation in the main seemed skittish, rushed and unfocused. It takes more than a change of accent to outline a new character, and the lack of physical change in the performers from role to role was notable.

Accents that worked well were found in the sound and lighting design. Rio Kai’s double bass playing in the onstage underscore was a highlight, and David Howe provided some deft atmospheric changes with his lighting design, particularly against the back wall. Despite these efforts however, and ironically, given its meta-theatrical nature, Intra Muros remained theatrically unsatisfying, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Edward Johnson


Intra Muros

Park Theatre until 4th May


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Pupil | ★★★★ | November 2018
Dialektikon | ★★★½ | December 2018
Peter Pan | ★★★★ | December 2018
Rosenbaum’s Rescue | ★★★★★ | January 2019
The Dame | ★★★★ | January 2019
Gently Down The Stream | ★★★★★ | February 2019
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019
Cry Havoc | ★★ | March 2019
The Life I Lead | ★★★ | March 2019
We’re Staying Right Here | ★★★★ | March 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com