Review: Ruse and Artifice at The Annex Theatre, Southampton

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Magical!

A night of hugely entertaining acts and magical facts that will leave you questioning even the most basic of con games.

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Mystery. Laughs. Alarming amounts of fake blood. MagicSoc’s latest show, ‘Ruse and Artifice’, had all these and more in spades. Promising to be an ‘entertaining and mystifying exposé’, the magicians took the unsuspecting audience through the many wiles of con artists, with many (me included) leaving feeling considerably less confident in their own two eyes. The factual element and premise of the show was fascinating, with the origin of the term ‘mark’ and other magical trivia explained in a sufficiently concise and entertaining way that maintained a thread of continuity between six original and distinct acts. The transitions between performers was perfectly handled by host Kieran, whose one-liners and larger than life stage presence was an act in its own right.

The opening act came with a warning that you should never put your own money on the line against a stranger, and Bogdan proved that rule beyond a doubt. Using the classic con games three card monte or ‘Find The Lady’ and the lesser-known ‘Fast And Loose’, he put volunteers from the audience to shame as they tried to stay one step ahead of him, but always ended up three steps behind. He was an excellent choice to open the show, and his calm confidence set the tone for the rest of the acts. Callan similarly began with a deceptively simple game of cups and balls, framing his set as an insight into the workings of the trick while provoking increasing bafflement from the audience as they struggled to work out how the balls were ‘jumping’ from one cup to another. The icing on the cake was definitely the finale, where a lemon and a lime appeared under the cups despite being only a little smaller than the cups themselves. Ending the first act was Ivan, whose trick with dollar bills made me question my own basic maths skills. Appearing to make bills disappear and appear out of thin air, his most impressive feat was sealing an envelope full of cash, somehow swapping it out for an identical envelope full of paper in what he called ‘The Gypsy Switch’.

Ramping up the tension, an operating table appeared post-interval and a brave volunteer was chosen to undergo Dr Martini’s dubiously legal psychic surgery. Managing to be both gruesome and hugely entertaining, I doubt I’ll see strawberry laces in quite the same way again, despite the attempts to clean up the poor volunteer’s stomach (and t-shirt) after the operation. Next, ‘Lewis the Mediocre’ was anything but. His stylish shades and hugely endearing stage presence made up for a slight slip with choosing a volunteer’s favourite word  from a choice of literary epics including ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. His version of shot roulette with vodka and water appealed to a student audience at the beginning of exam season – hopefully that vodka didn’t go to waste. The final showstopping act was the work of Rhiannon and James, who pulled off a spirit cabinet illusion with a blend of magical expertise and good old-fashioned patter that genuinely made me wonder if ghosts were among us, and why they loved Freddie Mercury so much.

All in all, the few mistakes and slip-ups during the show were handled excellently, played for laughs and often warming the atmosphere in the theatre. Nerves, too, were evident in some performers, but every single one did themselves proud. It’s easy to forget that every single one of the performers were students, as I’d happily pay to see any one of them on stage in their own right – some of them seem like they’ve been performing for years. I’d highly recommend seeing their repeat of the show on Saturday 12th May at 7:30pm in the Annex Theatre, and if you can’t make that, go and see any of their next performances – I’m consistently stunned by the society’s amazing degree of professionalism, and some of their tricks will blow your socks off.

Tickets can be purchased for ‘Ruse and Artifice’ on the SUSU Box Office website or on the door for £5 per student or £4 if you’re a Performing Arts member.

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Third year History student with a flair for the dramatic, generally found writing articles in search of the interesting. Connoisseur of cats, M&M's and quotations. "When people ask if I went to film school, I tell them 'no, I went to films'" - Quentin Tarantino

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