Magic is an uncertain theatrical form. You know that you are watching a trick – but in order for it to succeed, you have to believe it, even though you know it is a trick. Furthermore, the better a trick, so the next one has to be even better. It is a suicidal arms race which no magician can hope to win. The requirement to believe brings out the child in us. The desire to crack the artifice draws out the adult problem- solving reflex. Which brings me to Morgan & West, a duo, who at Derby Theatre, at an 11.30am half term school holiday showing, were performing a nominally children’s show to their curious adult escorts.
My expert child reviewers, Reuben and Beau, were aged seven and eight. The oldest children in the audience seemed around eleven, the youngest from three upwards. Any parent knows that trying to keep the simultaneous attention of that age range is not so much magic, as miraculous.
Morgan and West present themselves in Victorian clothes and speech. Morgan, tall and unctuous, West short, and even shorter tempered with children. There is no compromise on language, with many adults almost certainly having to google legerdemain. It works. This other worldly, possibly time travelling, persona only adds to the sense of mystery which finds substance in a narrative which embraces a very loose game show format, with hilarious results.
Understandably, the show majors on physical tricks. An unending supply of umbrellas and coloured eggs is routine. A sawed in half Morgan, and escape from a locked box in which the duo replace each other. is not. I did not know how they did ANY of the tricks.
The audience were enthralled from the start to the finish of the sixty minute show. The test of how enthralling a children’s show is lies in how many decide they would find a trip to the toilet more interesting mid show. No-one did. Even though the dialogue would have been difficult for pre-school children to follow, the characterisation, physical comedy and tricks kept them hooked. The older children, used to You Tube fare, looked on incredulous as magic happened live in front of them in a theatrical auditorium, not on a four inch phone screen. Adults marvelled at both the trickery, and the removal of any need to attend to their offspring for the duration of the performance. The narrative is a vital element of the performance. It not only links the trickery, it also softens the edges, and dulls the memory, so that we are not engaged in an onstage arms race escalating to the “best” trick. The laughs, of which there are many, are the oil for the wheels of the machinery.
Producing a show for children which does not dive for the lowest common denominator, instead of something greater, is no easy task. Morgan and West achieve that. The essential ingredients are there. Kids on stage – who were very good , a hapless parent, and unexpected audience responses , Donald Trump being a comic gift for this performance. The set was also impressive and robust, not the skimpy effort some children’s shows try to get away with. Well- paced, exceptionally scripted, and with impressive on stage magic Morgan and West produced a show that was amongst the best of its genre I have ever seen, with plenty to suggest that there is more magic to come. Rueben and Beau loved it.
Their website provides details of forthcoming performances well in to 2019. Catch them on the way up!