‘A fun & diverting change’: THE SECRET CONNECTION (Online review)

In Cabaret, Online shows, Opinion, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

It all began with the arrival of a slightly mysterious small package. We’ve all had to get used to the delightful sight of the online delivery van distributing yet another round of orders; indeed, this may well have been our only point of contact with the outside world.  But far from being another carton full of cat food, a further selection of clothes which can’t now be tried on in store or yet another impulse purchase clicked on during the endless hours of boredom, this was something a little out of the ordinary. On it was inscribed the words: “Please do not open until instructed.” Why the mystery? Well, it was for an interactive online magic show called The Secret Connection and this was a selection of props which were going to be deployed as part of the experience. So, into a drawer it went for 48 hours in order to avoid temptation.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a magic show – although the very last thing I saw at the theatre before closedown was in that vein. Magic Goes Wrong was a hilarious take down of  onstage magicians and illusionists where everything collapses around them which, counterintuitively, means they have to have complete control of what they are doing. By contrast Dr Will Houstoun is the real deal, having a PhD in the history of magical education, being editor of the Magic Circle’s in house journal and acting as a magic consultant to numerous film, TV and stage performances. For The Secret Connection he has taken his act online and threaded together various tricks and illusions to baffle and delight.

The emphasis is mostly on close up magic – no mean feat considering his audience can be anywhere in the world – and involves the expected sleight of hand and mind reading with playing cards and coins (no doves, though – shame!) and there are several twists which leave you scratching your head. The invocation #KeepTheSecret means I can’t really say too much more about the actual content but alongside the tricks there’s some interesting magic history with a demonstration of how Houdini performed one of his greatest illusions involving Jennie the pachyderm (I agree with Will, it’s a much better word than mere elephant).

The pre-delivered box of props also comes into play meaning that the magic is sometimes in your own hands rather that the good Doctor’s. There’s plenty of audience participation (don’t worry, you can opt out) and via Zoom’s breakout room facility a chance to link up with some fellow observers. Unlike many another online Zoom show, audience members are positively encouraged to keep their cameras on so you can clearly see the reactions of others and with some children in attendance there are some awe struck responses to enjoy.

Will Houston is an engagingly low key performer who suits the intimate set-up – there’s a maximum of thirty screens per performance -making you feel you are watching a table side magician in a restaurant (remember those?) There is a thematic narrative all about making links with and between the audience though this could perhaps do with a  bit more polish and refinement. While it holds the sequence together it never quite makes itself relevant enough to matter as much as the tricks themselves. That aside it’s a fun 70 minutes which makes a diverting change from just absorbing yet another online performance in a semi-supine position. With your mystery box souvenirs to play with post performance it might also inspire you to try out some acts of online prestidigitation yourselves. And that’s (real) magic!

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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