Philip Escoffey: Six Impossible Things Before Dinner [FringeTIX]
Philip Escoffey @ Umbrella Revolution
8:45pm, Tue 16 Feb 2010
A late scheduling, prematurely plucked off The Shortlist by the cancellation of Beat Munky, I couldn’t even remember what the précis of Philip Escoffey was as I scooted straight onto the end of the line into the Umbrella Revolution. When I get in, the place is packed; it’s hard to see where they could squeeze any latecomers.
Philip introduces himself: he’s a softly spoken, but earnest, Englishman. His show is based around the myths of mind-reading, with a little bit of other spiritualism and “mysticism” roped in for comic relief; he polls the audience for believers and sceptics, finds a majority of the latter, then sets about changing their minds – all the while preaching a message of rationality.
Philip proclaims that he’s going to perform six impossible things (as per the show’s title), and things start off slowly; randomly selecting audience members by tossing a (foam) brick over his shoulder and into their midst, he opens with a simple demonstration based on the classic Zener cards. Things progress into a comparison of his mind-reading “abilities” versus the predictions of horoscopes, a discussion of the spiritualism industry, and he plucks one “unlucky” person out of the audience (Emma) and proceeds to turn her into the luckiest girl alive (well… in comparison to two other audience members, anyway).
His penultimate act, though, is a doozy. Three random audience members, undertaking three different selection tests (Zener cards, normal cards, dictionary word selection), and he verbalises all their choices correctly. He explains the myriad of ways in which he could have acquired the correct answers – marking cards, memorising pages of the dictionary – to create the illusion that it’s all just a clever trick. But then, as the audience departs, he reveals the same answers written behind signs that were on the stage all along – which is pretty bloody impressive (though it does call into question the theatrical nature of his verbal analysis of the people).
There’s a mild sense of disappointment associated with the last Impossible Thing (after a final cash-grab for charity); the trick doesn’t turn out the way we expected, and I almost felt cheated by a bit of wordplay. It’s only after we leave the Revolution that the denouement is finally revealed… and it’s then that you’re left completely and utterly flabbergasted.
The thing is, with the benefit of a couple of days of hindsight, it’s also the most rationally explainable of his tricks: it’s the ultimate celebration of sleight-of-hand. But in no way does that detract from the impact of this performance; there’s plenty there for everyone to enjoy, with the only possible flaws being the flat spots where he lingers too long on the history of cold-war mentalism research. Still, Escoffey’s dry wit and English charm make this a thoroughly entertaining show – not one to see when you’re pissed, though.