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Reviewer:  Tiffany Markman, wife to a talented actor, mom to a brilliant one-year-old and  freelance copywriter-editor-trainer, who tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.

SHOW: Imagine
CAST: Ilan Smith
VENUE: The Fringe, Joburg Theatre, from 4 -13 September 2012

This, the second stage show from favourite local illusionist Ilan Smith, offers charm in spades and small, sensitive touches that tug on the heartstrings. The translations of his traditionally close-up work into a theatre presentation also got me turning to my husband six or seven times throughout the show to ask, ‘How did he do that?!?’

It is extremely difficult to review a magic show. As a reviewer, you want to give a fair sense of your experience and its high points, without ruining the trump cards. You want to explain how you were awed in parts, touched in parts and stunned in parts, without giving too much away. And you want to try to suspend your own disbelief.

So, here goes…

The stage is set. It’s a strange set – more like a musty old attic, crammed with dusty mementoes, odd tables, and unmatched chairs – than the traditionally shiny, stark backdrop of a ‘magician’. But then, Ilan Smith’s not a magician. He’s an illusionist. A guy who specialises in making you think you’ve seen something that’s not at all possible. A guy who’s proud of the fact that it’s not magic. And who says so.

Ilan Smith’s also not your usual smarmy, smooth, polished performer. He’s a bearded Jewish guy. In jeans (and, granted, a very nice jacket). Who uses his wife’s curtains – supposedly – as a prop. Who makes quips about Shabbos (Sabbath) and an old friend who called him boychick (‘my boy’, Yiddish slang). Who is self-effacing where usually they’re brash and self-conscious where usually they’re flashy.

Despite sounding a little too rehearsed in the very early moments, Ilan’s patter warms up to be sweetly affable and his illusions – big and small – are delightful. There’s audience involvement, laughter, and many gasps of shocked surprise. There are funny bits and beautiful bits and clever bits and wacky bits. There’s even the requisite beautiful assistant, with big eyes and black hair. You’ll see what I mean.

As for the kids, there were several in the audience, aged 7 to 13 or so, but since the show kicks off at 8.15pm, it’s too late (and too long, at 80 minutes) for the real littlies. My advice? Go as a couple or with friends, and have a drink (but no food) afterwards at News Café. You can sit around and argue about how Ilan does it. Look out for:

  1. The thing he does with the cards during the Sting song
  2. The phone-a-friend gimmick
  3. The balloon (Ilan’s right – all I want to know is, where’s the %&$* balloon?)
  4. The amazing full-audience-participation card trick, à la Oprah

Enjoy!

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