Theatre Review: MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE – Palace Theatre,  Manchester

Henry Lewis in MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE. Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Blending magic, mentalism, and audience participation, MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE is a hilariously executed comedy that masterfully balances planned chaos and improvisation.

5 out of 5 stars

Mischief Theatre returns with another brilliantly funny, wonderfully executed comedy in the form of MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE.

Renowned for their signature brand of slapstick, often ‘stupid’ comedy stylings, this show is no different. Featuring the creators of Mischief’s flagship show, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer (as Mind Mangler and Stooge, respectively), the show manages to perfectly merge magic, mentalism, mistakes and members of the audience into one melting pot of laughs.

Pre-show, audience members are asked to fill in a piece of paper with their name and a secret. No further instructions or context are provided besides filling it in and putting it into a ballot box. As soon as it is made clear to the audience, these will be used later in the show. We are introduced to the mysterious (and somewhat moronic) Mind Mangler, a mentalist who begins to demonstrate his box of tricks: ranging from the seemingly simple guessing of a name to the spectacular finale, the tricks are carried out to varying degrees of success. Some tricks involve audience members, and some involve the one ‘audience member’ in particular who keeps getting picked and brought onstage (who absolutely does not know the Mind Mangler, as we are repeatedly reminded).

Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer in MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE. Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

As is to be expected with anything that Mischief Theatre do, everything is carried out with extreme precision – even the moments that seem to be nothing more than pure chaos. Everything goes according to plan, or so it seems. However, they have perfected the art of making you second guess whether or not things ARE planned: despite the Mind Mangler’s apparent idiocy, some moments of magic and mentalism are so incredible that you obviously presume these are planned and carried out to great effect. The fact that some tricks involve genuine audience members and appear improvised forces you to marvel at their success.

Audience participation plays a key role in the show, as is to be expected: volunteers are asked for, people are picked out (at random?), and suggestions are shouted. It is here that the lines become blurred between improvised and scripted moments. Surely, the fact that a random audience member with a random job is picked means that the bit would have to be improvised, right? Given the brilliance with which everything is carried out, the mere fact that this comes into question is testament to Lewis’ skill as a performer.

The show does have a narrative arc, one which is needed; this is the type of show that, whilst brilliant and hilarious, could easily become repetitive and boring with nothing to drive it forward. Still, before this arc is introduced, longer scenes and tricks are interspersed by shorter, random, but excellent illusions to keep the audience engaged. These include “Quick-Fire Jesus”, as the Mind Mangler replicates miracles such as multiplying the amount of bread and fish in a box, allowing them to spill over the stage (and thus allowing slapstick, as the stage manager struggles to tidy up behind a curtain).

Henry Lewis in MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE. Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

The moments when characters are dropped only serve to add to the hilarity as Lewis and Sayer struggle to contain their own laughter. This proves to the audience that some bits are improvised, yet it doesn’t detract from the show itself, as it is more of a stage show than a typical play.

Unlike the (still wonderful) THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Mind Mangler intentionally maintains the illusion in the stagecraft, like a magician never revealing their tricks. This is a very different type of performance that moves away from the “goes wrong” idea (even though much of it still does). It is as side-splittingly funny as it is astonishing, and you will leave with your mind mangled.

MIND MANGLER: MEMBER OF THE TRAGIC CIRCLE runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until 18 May 2024.