During a pre-Christmas shopping trip with my parents who were visiting from New Zealand, we visited Bernard’s Magic Shop in Melbourne’s CBD.  Having been established in 1937, Bernard’s is a Melbourne institution; there’s plenty to keep the average, non-conjuring shopper inspired for gift ideas, but I’m told that there’s even more concealed behind the shop counter for the professional magician (evidently, there is a for-real secret handshake or password or something to ensure that only those privileged to be entrusted with magicians’ secrets may gain access).
While at Bernard’s, we purchased some high quality playing cards to better facilitate our summer holiday games of gin rummy (no magic involved) – and I filled out an entry form for two free tickets to the opening night of The Illusionists 2.0. My middle child, Alia, has been a die-hard Cosentino fan since she was five, so my intention was to take her as my plus-one in the unlikely event that I won tickets.

A few weeks later, that unlikely event became a certain event, when a lovely woman from Bernard’s rang to inform me that there were two tickets and a programme awaiting my collection at the State Theatre. Pre-show refreshments were a tub of Lord of the Fries chips French Canadian style, consumed while sitting on the grass outside the Arts Centre and listening to a free live band (even without the free show, there’s not much that can beat the sights and atmosphere of Melbourne City on a mild summer’s night).

The Ilusionists 2.0 is a two-hour extravaganza performed by seven gentlemen, each with a different specialty. I’d seen versions of most of the performances before, but not with such flair; the costumes (who knew you could inject so much personality into basic black?), lighting (or not-lighting, as the case may be – the expression “smoke and mirrors” originated from stage illusion), choreography and music (the composer, Evan Jolly, boasts amongst many other things the arrangement of the scores for the final four Harry Potter movies) and the varied nature of the different acts made for a riveting and highly entertaining show. Highlights included:

The Unusualist

– Raymond Crowe, a.k.a. The Unusualist, a.k.a. “That guy who could be one of The Doctors” and his talent for turning the usually naff art of ventriloquism into something hilarious and very clever.

– James More, a.k.a. The Deceptionist. James More could have stepped out of an alternate universe – an alternate universe where David Beckham became a world-class illusionist instead of a soccer player.

– Luis De Matos a.k.a. The Master Magician. You know how illusionists sometimes like to get members of the audience up on stage to assist, and there are always sceptics who think that the assistant must be a plant? Upon entering the theatre before the show, everyone was handed a sealed envelope to be opened later in the show, which allowed every single person in the audience to participate. (Oh, wait – unless we’d all been hypnotized beforehand by Michael C Anthony, and didn’t even know it…)

– Ben Blaque a.k.a. The Weapons Master. Alia could barely stand to watch this act, and I confess to letting slip a few

The Weapons Master

little squeaks of terror during his finale, which involved a carefully calibrated chain reaction, several powerful crossbows, and a dark hood completely covering Ben’s head, and an apple (I assume the hood served two purposes – to significantly raise the stunt’s level of difficulty, and to spare the audience most of the gore if he missed).

– Hyun Joon Kim a.k.a. The Manipulator. Hyun Joon Kim appeared on stage early on in the show, and for a comparatively brief time, during which he conjured up more packs of cards than could possibly fit up his sleeves. I wondered, given the brevity of his act, why he got equal billing with the others – until he came back on for the “encore” for what was arguably the most impressive performance of them all. Watching the close-up on the massive screen above his head, I was struck by how extraordinarily long and slender his fingers were; literally, he was born to do magic.

(My apologies to anyone reading this review who now has a hankering to attend; my tardiness in posting means you only have a few days left to see it, as the show closes in Melbourne on 25 January.)

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