Tag Archives: Kwaku Mills

The Art of Illusion

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

 

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Dark Sublime
★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Dark Sublime

 

Dark Sublime

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 28th June 2019

★★★

 

“as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite”

 

There is a touch of Michael Keaton’s ‘Birdman’ as Marina Sirtis, best known for her role as Deanna Troi in ‘Star Trek’, takes to the stage to play a hard-working actress who, years on, can’t seem to shake the shadow of her biggest role. 

An eager twenty one year-old fan (Kwaku Mills) turns up at the door of a jaded, middle-aged actress (Sirtis) to interview her about a cult sci-fi programme that she starred in decades before, and they strike up an unlikely friendship.

The main narrative is spliced with scenes from an unaired episode of ‘Dark Sublime’. Living room furniture doubles up as hammy spaceship tech as Simon Thorp darts about, speaking to his chatty computer (Mark Gatiss) via his wrist with great urgency. The switch between ordinary life and sci-fi sets us up for a fun paralleling of plotlines – presumably ‘reality’ will eventually dovetail with ‘fantasy.’
However, as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite, combining multiple subplots of unrequited love, professional frustration, generational differences, as well as the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi. It’s a bit much to have all of this going on simultaneously.

Writer Michael Dennis was clearly trying to interlace plot points as much as possible, but it thins out the audience’s focus. Marianne’s unrequited love of her best friend Kate (Jacqueline King), for example, partially overshadows the crux of the story, and gives cause for an ill-fitting scene of somewhat cloying sentiment between Kate and her girlfriend Suzanne (Sophie Ward). This scene then gives way to another snippet of ‘Dark Sublime’, but the clash of genre is now slightly bizarre and distracting.

Similarly, the effective use of living room furniture as futuristic hi-tech is diluted when the living room also doubles up as a hotel conference or a park, with no prop changes beside the TV screen showing either a picture of Alexandra Palace or a conference logo (Tim McQuillen-Wright).

Andrew Keates’ direction places a particular emphasis on Oli’s initial draw to ‘Dark Sublime’ as a gay teenager in a small town looking for a necessary escape: the few times it’s mentioned, Oli is bathed in red light (Neil Brinkworth) and stands to deliver a short but dramatic homily. But there isn’t that much stress on this particular point within the script, so it seems a little out of sync.

Whilst there are a few quippy lines, there is often a sense that you have to be ‘in’ on the joke, which, I presume, I wasn’t. On the whole, Keates and Dennis have been overly ambitious and tried to squeeze far too much in. There are a lot of interesting aspects touched upon – the idea of fandom in relation to an actor’s reality for example, or the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi – but I think they would be best served if they didn’t have to fight so much for focus and stage time.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Dark Sublime

Trafalgar Studios until 3rd August

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Dust | ★★★★★ | September 2018
A Guide for the Homesick | ★★★ | October 2018
Hot Gay Time Machine | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019

 

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