Last Updated on January 4, 2023
The Molière Alexis Michalik award-winning tale of illusionist, romance and invention is a hilarious journey through time.
Done well, the Hampstead Theater Downstairs is a space that can transport an audience. Set in theaters, dungeons, and magic shows, The Art of Illusion does just that. Alexis Michalik’s play, now brought to England in English translation by Waleed Akhtar, is a magical romp about a 19th-century illusionist and the echoes he evokes through the ages. It inspires childish wonder to its subject, with lots of laughs along the way.
There are moments of sentimentality at the beginning and end, somewhat unnecessary given the intrigue already created by its sprawling plot. The central character, played by Martin Hyder, begins with the scene setting, explaining how he will navigate the time period from 1776 at the Russian Imperial Court, to the start of his 1984 Paris romance during the European Championships, his speech interspersed with earnest metaphors. about time and illusion.
This heartfelt beginning contrasts with other plays, which are lighthearted excursions between past and present, aided by clever use of sets and props. The play is brightest not when Hyder describes it, but when the viewer is made to use his imagination: to visualize an antique kinetograph (original film camera); the basement was converted into a theater for magic shows; horse gallop pulls a carriage carrying the fake Italian illusionist and his entourage. The subject of the play is illusion, art which causes the viewer to make assumptions about what exists when in fact there is nothing at all. In his best moments, director Tom Jackson Greaves does just that.
The company – especially the performances by Rina Fatania and Kwaku Mills – are an integral part in producing the illusion. Their audience interaction and virtuoso multi-role bring laughter. You will leave with a smile on your face and the feeling that you have lived through the passage of time.
In the comfortable audience room at Hampstead Theater Downstairs, one always feels part of the production. While it may not tug at the heartstrings, The Art of Illusion makes use of the uniqueness of space to create a performance that engages its audience, integrates it into its subject matter, and results in a memorable spectacle.
Art of Illusion at the Hampstead Theater runs until January 28, 2023. Purchase tickets here.
Eton Ave, London NW3 3EU