Wonderville: Magic and Cabaret, Wonderville Haymarket

by Zahid Fayyaz

Fresh from a West End run several months ago, Wonderville has hunkered down to do its own residency at its own purpose-built venue at the former Planet Hollywood café in London’s Haymarket, a few minutes from Piccadilly Circus. Here for an open-ended run, there is a mix of magic and variety acts, playing on rotation.

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No One, Brighton Fringe

by Diana Miranda

Invisibility’s appeal has a new angle in this show by AKIMBO physical theatre company. Loosely inspired by H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, AKIMBO gives the narrative an original twist that locates the story within the millennial scene of social media, instant messaging, pub parties and nightclubs. The story stands on its own and explores themes that move away from the questions of science and ethics of Wells’ novel. As such, AKIMBO’s No One navigates (in)visibility in the digital era and offers a tragicomic thriller that starts as a detective investigation and slowly takes on a warmer, more intimate focus on an invisible man that craves connection.

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Mythosphere, Stone Nest

Mythosphere: Magical Russian-UK theatre production opens at Stone Nest |  Stage Chat

by Laura Kressly

This luxurious, multimedia production about magical worlds, the ability to access them, and how society as a whole regards magic is a sensory feast and provokes reflection on the status quo. However, it has a troubling heart. In the programme notes for Mythosphere, director, writer and producer Inna Dulerayn explains how she was inspired by Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist and activist. Dulerayn writes, “reading about her experience in a mental asylum made me look deep into the nature of mental disorders, discovering their similarities with states of spiritual enlightenment and the phenomenon of extrasensory abilities”. This comment, and the show’s story, make it clear that underlying the production’s beautiful exterior there are dangerous ideas about mental health that could have scary repercussions.

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Changelings, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Mowgli, a ferocious boy-child raised by wolves in the jungle, has been kicked out of the pack. He’s trying to figure out what to do next when he meets a mysterious creature from another world – or rather, another story. Puck has been watching Mowgli with unusually keen interest, so the two might be able to help each other out.

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Freak, VAULT Festival


A thing wot I learnt from theatre: there are people in the world that have a genetic disorder which gives them super stretchy skin. Whilst this is a great/horrifying party trick, historically it meant that people with this condition could join a travelling sideshow.

Nathan Penlington could be called a freak by those inclined to use such dated, derogatory language. He has a rare genetic disorder that, in him, manifests as hypermobility and chronic pain. But in other people it can make their skin stretch excessively. Penlington’s long-running fascination with sideshows combined with his own health issues, led him on a journey to a town in Florida with a unique history. His findings in the States, his research into sideshow culture and history, and a dash of disability rights combine to make solo performance/TED Talk work-in-progress Freak.

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Jerry Sadowitz: Card Tricks with Appropriate Patter, Soho Theatre

by an anonymous guest critic

It’s fair to say that watching Jerry Sadowitz is not for the fainthearted. There is no topic that this infamous comedian/magician won’t attempt to mine comedy material from. So whilst a lot of his jokes are extremely funny, quite often they are proceeded by a jolt to the audience as they realise that yes, he is about to do a bit about some of the following subjects: paedophilia, the Hillsborough disaster, rape, the Holocaust, Trump (whom he supports), Bridget Christie and Stewart Lee to name just a few. Most of the time, the audience, who are well tuned into Sadowitz’s ruthless style, are in hysterics.

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Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman, Soho Theatre


From a lectern in the corner of the stage, Dr Marisa Carnesky fights the social taboo of periods. Resembling a character from a Tim Burton film, the PhD holder in menstrual rituals and synchronicity shares her collective research with a group of performance artists she assembled, the Menstruants. Sideshow/cabaret Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman is a wonderfully quirky manifestation of sisterhood, womanhood and the wonders of the female body.

Every month on the new moon, Dr Carnesky and the Menstruants met on a beach in Southend to develop and performed rituals around their menstrual cycle. The Menstruants come from an array of backgrounds and sexualities, and their rituals are as unique and individual as they are. Through their performances, every woman’s personal experiences with their bodies is validated and celebrated.

The performances on show are distinctive and compelling. There is some spectacle: sword swallower MisSa Blue has a customised set of swords that suit her oesophagus shape each day of her cycle. Some of the work is more reflective and otherwordly, like Nao Nagal’s use of traditional Japanese masked performance. Molly Beth Morossa provides a creepy sideshow element with her twitchy, Victorian high tea. H Plewis performs a visceral movement piece with her menstrual jelly. Rhyannon Styles simply speaks to us directly about her experience of cycles as a trans woman. Fancy Chance, with the rest of the company, performs a phenomenal circus act as a finale, after an empowering, proud sequence of feminine reclamation. All of the acts celebrate female abilities and bodies without aggression.

In between the vulnerable, performative manifestations of female cycles, Dr Carnesky talks to the audience through an array of historical and cultural mores surrounding menstruation. She particularly focuses on myth and symbolism – death and rebirth, shedding of skin and female unity. Her tone is gentle and matter-of-fact; the the content may be revolutionary but she comes across as warm and supportive.

In a show that has the potential to come across as alienating, it is instead welcoming – no one in the audience (men included) seem uncomfortable, and the stories shared on the stage are supported from the house. Instead,this diverse, inclusive variety show is a divine honouring of the feminine mystery and a reclamation of one of the features that defines women, and a showcase of some excellent live artists.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman runs through 7 January.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Tonight With Donny Stixx, The Bunker


Donny Stixx is a teenaged magician with boundless dedication to his craft and desperation for fame. Rather than doing things that boys his age normally do, he spends hours honing his skills and tweaking the act he performs at kids’ parties, hospices, churches and for anyone else that will watch. The only thing he ever thinks and talks about is his magic. But Donny’s pretty obviously on the autism spectrum; this combined with his unstable upbringing and lack of an appropriate support system is a particularly deadly combination. Philip Ridley’s 2015 Edinburgh award-winning solo show explodes onto a bare, grey stage in a linguistically vivid documentation of fanaticism and social disorder with a phenomenal performance by Sean Michael Verey.

Verey is an unrelenting force with inimitable energy and charisma that shines through a character who has precious little social intuition. Though Donny is awkward and frustrating, Verey’s performance captivates. Having a totally plain stage that is anywhere and everywhere means it’s entirely on the actor to hold attention – but the performance makes it work and is never, ever boring.

Ridley’s text is dense and Verey races through it; it would otherwise be double the length. Though the pace is exhausting to take in, it’s necessary. The language and imagery richly creates a wonderfully detailed believable world. Director David Mercatali coaxes the nuance from Donny’s biographical story incredibly well despite the speed – the sparsely used pauses are devastating. When the pace finally lets up, it’s like cold air hitting a friction burn.

A clearly foreshadowed conclusion results in awed, uncomfortable silence. After a week that saw the broken American political machine elect an orange fascist for its next president, Ridley’s play is far from comforting. Whilst Verey’s depiction of Donny’s passion is delightful and his performance is nothing short of extraordinary, his vulnerability weighs heavily on bruised and helpless liberal consciences. There is no safety net, and fanaticism is the new normal in this dark play from the innocent days of pre-2016. It’s a hard show to sit through, but absolutely worth it.

Tonight With Donny Stixx runs through 3 December.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

The Devil Without, London Horror Festival

rsz_1devilHiding in a room above a pub in Camden, John is on the run from an archdemon that he initially believed was the angel Madimi, with whom he did a dodgy deal for his soul. This archdemon is so powerful that being in his presence is enough to kill a mortal. But don’t worry, everyone is safe as long as we follow John’s instructions and don’t go through the door. Arcane symbols and a circle of salt help protect us from harm, as does his wisdom and hundreds of years of life experience. We are there for a workshop of sorts, to learn how to augment our realities through the power of the liminal space that exists between realities and just happen to be caught up in the demon chase, so the audience must sign a waiver before entering the theatre. Part séance, part hypnotism show, part magic and part theatre, The Devil Without seamlessly merges genres and the occult in a frighteningly unpredictable show loaded with audience interaction.

It’s difficult to say much about this show’s details without giving away the elements that generate the near-constant surprise and suspense, but there is a storyline and a structure that definitely makes this a piece of highly effective theatre. Ian Harvey-Stone plays the character of the 500-year-old immortal, performing feats of mind control and magic that rely on audience participation, including four people taken on an out-of-body journey to see if it’s safe to emerge from the room. There are also guided meditations that are meant to reduce phobias and demonstrate the power of our own minds, which are uncomfortably successful. It’s certainly impressive as Harvey-Stone manages to fully convinces and disarms the audience. Logically I believe what he does must be trickery involving audience plants, but he’s so convincing that the seeds of doubts are there, especially with Harvey-Stone’s assurance that they aren’t and the show changes nightly – could it be real? After all, “magic features the power of words…speak something and it exists,” says John. This uncertainty contributes to the scare factor of the show; we are unsettled when logic cannot explain an occurrence.

Smoothly directed by John-David Henshaw, the use of light and sound emphasizes the paranormal with resonant tones and pulsing lights. Henshaw’s direction combined with Harvey-Stone’s performance makes them an impressive pair of suspense masters. As a former scare attraction performer and an aficionado of horror, it takes a lot to rattle me but The Devil Without is hugely unsettling. The fluid genre mash-up and Harvey-Stone’s committed performance combine to create a show that extends the genre of horror theatre in a wonderfully frightening direction.

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