Mindmatics – Tom Harrison
New Players Theatre, London
9th July, 2010
Directed by Simon Manning
Reviewed by Ian Keable
This show has a lot going for it. Tom Harrison is a confident young performer with a likeable personality. He wears jeans, tee-shirt and loose fitting jacket and talks complete nonsense with authority. He has worked hard to create original material using modern technology, the show’s programme and a vast array of oversized props to turn mentalism into a theatrical experience. He is excellent at the ‘geist’, “the mechanism that your audience thinks makes an effect work.” He carries off dramatic pauses, asking supposedly relevant questions, and creating, and releasing, suspense, with panache.
The two most satisfying routines were simple in structure and effect. Two people up on stage, one selects a card which he alone sees. Tom faces him and asks him a series of questions to try and determine his card. Whilst he is doing this, his back is to the other person who is dealing cards down onto the table. Tom, in mid-question, suddenly calls out “stop”. He then divulges the card. As a kicker, the card stopped at is the selected card.
The other routine is referred to as The Box Effect, sold to the audience as one that hasn’t been performed for over seventy years and that many had tried to persuade him not to do. The challenge is that he has to select the one out of ten plastic boxes container that doesn’t have a bed of nails in its bottom. He proves he is successful by jumping inside it bare footed, whilst blindfolded. This does scant justice to the amount of drama that Tom extracted from this premise.
It is somewhat ironic that both of these tricks could have been performed one hundred years ago – unlike the majority of the others that relied on factors such as a knowledge of (lost on me and I suspect quite a few others in the audience) a semi-obscure computer game, familiarity with celebrity culture and a video screen in order to ‘demonstrate’ the big finish.
It is also perhaps inevitable that the spectrum of Derren Brown hangs over the rest of the show, with not just one multiple climax, but two, to end each half. Furthermore the Experiment, as the culmination of the show was named, relied on procedure that took place in the first half, and part of it also on a choice of number that had already generated the first half climax. Both this latter ‘bit of business’, and the one that single-handedly brought about the second half cumulative effects, were very straightforward: most magicians would instantly detect them and that makes me think that an intelligent layperson would similarly arrive (after some post-match discussion) at the solution.
“Don’t be greedy with a principle”, is a good motto that magicians and mind readers have always followed. In the case of Tom Harrison he positively gorges on them.
If I am being overcritical, then that is probably a compliment to Tom. Because he has done the really difficult bit – which is to convince that he has the ability to genuinely do weird and dangerous stuff that has no rational explanation and yet still come across as a guy you wouldn’t mind having a drink with. Certainly the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to nearly all his effects, and the applause at the end of the show, showed how much they liked him and enjoyed what he was doing.
As a piece of theatre, however, Mindmatics needs plenty of work, particularly in the area of ‘setting up’ some of the effects; there was far too much convoluted and messy dead time, especially in the first half. Maybe the Director is partly at fault – somebody called Simon Manning who bizarrely is also quoted on the front of the programme endorsing Tom. Surely you can get somebody else besides your own unknown Director to sing your praises.
Tom Harrison is competing in a tough field – this is the third ‘mind-reading’ show I’ve seen in the past six months: the other two, Chris Cox’s Mind over Patter and Philip Escoffey’s Six Impossible Things Before Dinner were objectively better shows (both I suspect are more experienced performers). The fact that they both ran straight through without an interval may have something to do with it. Whether Tom can raise his game remains to be seen: he certainly has, as his own Director points out, “the potential”.
© Ian Keable, July 2010