The Naked Magicians, Trafalgar Studios, London ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

What’s the best way for a conjurer to show an audience that you’ve got nothing up your sleeves? One solution: lose the sleeves. Australian duo Christopher Wayne and Mike Tyler promise to take the concept to its extreme, by shedding all their clothes. And while they do eventually get naked, for most of the time they deliver a saucy show with slickly executed magic tricks, while remaining clothed.

The evening starts up with a comedian to warm up an already lubricated crowd. Maureen Younger’s brand of comedy, mixing frank and honest observations about love and sex with self-deprecating barbs at her own personal life, is a great fit for this show and its target audience: a very definite appeal to straight women and gay men, but welcoming and not excluding for anyone else. Some of Younger’s jokes rely on her not being more well-known: how good it would be if that material could become outdated.

When Wayne and Tyler emerge for their hour of magic, it is clear that audiences familiar with stage magic routines will have lots to recognise. The act of collecting pieces of information from random members of the audience, only to reveal the same nuggets written on a pre-prepared piece of paper that has been locked in a box in plain sight all along, is a well-worn opener, after all. Less familiar is the use of an inflatable penis to select audience members at random as they provide information to form a comedic description of a porn film: if there is any doubt that this show is only for adults (and what doubt could there be, given the show’s marketing materials and the constant presence of an inflatable sex doll on stage) it is dispelled pretty quickly.

A number of tricks rely on onstage audience participation, and Wayne and Tyler prove adept at identifying which members of the public are going to give the best entertainment value. From the man who potentially sees his mobile phone destroyed in front of his eyes (the conclusion to which includes the aforementioned sex doll) to a woman who is expected to psychically transmit a celebrity’s name to Tyler by keeping her hand pressed to his butt, each of the magicians’ routines are enhanced by their audience selection, a much-overlooked skill.

But any show offering naked magicians must, sooner or later, deliver on that promise. And after a couple of striptease-like sequences (with the emphasis on ‘tease’), Wayne and Tyler use a straight jacket escape competition as an excuse to achieve full nudity, with the loser stripping fully. With only a top hat to cover his modesty, Wayne then performs a traditional rope trick, enlivened by requiring a member of the audience to hold the hat in place.

As with so many of the duo’s set pieces, there is little new in the mechanics of the trickery, but the constant good atmosphere, saucy patter and interaction with the audience makes for a highly enjoyable magic show. The true art of the magician is to make the audience look one way while the sleight-of-hand occurs elsewhere: in embracing silliness and nudity, Wayne and Tyler have provided the ultimate in visual misdirection.

Runs until September 24.