When Derren Brown first arrived on the scene in the early 2000s, he brought an extra dimension to the world of stage magic: he performed a trick while revelling in the fact that there’s no such thing as magic. Sometimes he’d even demonstrate exactly how he’d done it. As well as feeling smart, the overall effect was hugely entertaining.   

The Mind Mangler, currently at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, is a new twist on that formula, brought to us by the Mischief team, most famous for The Play That Goes Wrong and its assorted spin-offs. It’s not exactly Magic Goes Wrong – Mischief have actually done a show by that name, of which this is a spin-off – and in fact, most of the time it goes right, and impressively so. Aided and abetted by stage magic experts, they’ve crafted a show in which Keith, the titular Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis), pulls off some pretty dazzling feats before your very eyes. Not only that, but it’s properly, uproariously funny, and that’s a fine balance to strike.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

In fact, the show has even more up its sleeve. It’s no spoiler to say you’ll see a lot of a chap called Steve (Jonathan Sayer) who’s involved in pulling off another impressive trick: building a behind-the-scenes narrative from hints and revelations along the way that give proceedings an extra bit of weight. Suffice it to say that, off stage, Keith is a man who has lost his reason to believe in magic.    

The element of storytelling here is particularly nifty, elevating the whole confection and providing characters to root for – even if they are as damaged and aggressive as Keith. As for Steve, it adds something else entirely that, in his teens, Ashton-under-Lyne lad Sayer used to usher at this very theatre, and now seems to be taking special pleasure in wowing the crowds himself. They might have made their names as part of a team (and they’re co-writers here, along with fellow Mischief mainstay Henry Shields), but Lewis and Sayer make for a brilliant double act.

Fans of previous Mischief / Goes Wrong shows will find much to admire, though it deviates from them slightly with its minimal cast and marginally more adult tone. It’s still suitable for all but the very young, though. It has plenty of pace and spectacle, and it’s properly interactive, too, with Lewis and Sayer getting to flex impressive crowd-work and improvisation skills. In fact, one of the greatest tricks here is the sleight of hand being played on the audience blending what’s genuine and what isn’t. 

Truth be told, there’s a lot that can’t be said about The Mind Mangler without impairing the enjoyment of those who haven’t seen it, but in simple terms, this is a delight – a warm, hugely funny show delivered with proper skill, drawing together various threads of stage entertainment and weaving them into pretty much irresistible pure fun. Put it this way, if you still have memories of sitting out the pandemic in lockdown, longing to get out and enjoy yourself, this is exactly the sort of thing you were missing.

By Andy Murray

Photos, including the main image, by Pamela Raith Photography




The Mind Mangler is at Manchester Palace Theatre until May 18, 2024, with subsequent tour dates taking in Hull and Liverpool: www.mischiefcomedy.com/whats-on/mind-mangler-member-of-the-tragic-circle/