Review: The Mind Mangler – a treat for the eyes, ears, and funny bone

On the 10 year anniversary of Mischief Theatre's Play That Goes Wrong, the company branches into illusions, mentalism and more - all of which (you guessed it) GO WRONG! 4 stars.

(Image: Pamela Raith)

Heading to the Apollo Theatre for Press Night of The Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, we thought we knew what to expect. A lighthearted play about a magic act that goes wrong – classic Mischief Theatre (the creators of the Play the Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong). 

However this treat for the eyes, ears and funny bone defied all our expectations, delivering a delightfully engaging and continually interactive theatrical experience – complete with real laughs and real magic. 

Created and performed by Olivier Award winning writers Henry Lewis and Jonathon Sayer, the play follows illusionist and mind reader The Mind Mangler (or Keith for short), who was created for Magic Goes Wrong by Lewis and Sayer, alongside Penn Jillette, Henry Shields and Teller (from Penn & Teller fame). 

A testament to a company that continually places audience interaction at the heart of everything it does, and at the core of every iteration of [blank] Goes Wrong that it creates. 

Since the Mind Mangler broke off from the Magic Goes Wrong act, the often incompetent magician has appeared in venues across the UK, including a sold out season at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a recent run in New York City.

This sequel follows the Mind Mangler (performed by Henry Lewis) as he debuts the London show of his (fictional) UK tour (all the other stops having been cancelled), before heading off on exciting new gigs on a cruise ship and in Las Vegas. All is not what it seems however, as one overly eager audience participant (played by Jonathon Sayer) continues to disrupt the magical proceedings, jeopardising the Mind Mangler’s London debut and career! 

Henry Lewis as the Mind Mangler
(Image: Pamela Raith)

Magic trick after magic trick ‘goes wrong’ in this show Lewis’s Mind Mangler playing it off with totally unearned levels of confidence, nervous charisma, a little rage, and some forgivable puppy dog eyes too. This is a show where the audience almost begs the magic to go wrong, just to see the cast’s brilliant reactions and twisty follow ups – because you really never know what will come next. 

From blink and you’ll miss it transitions called ‘Quick Fire Jesus’ (and yes it’s exactly what you’re thinking), to dazzling escapades going wrong left, right and centre (often with tragically hilarious results), the magic never stops, except when the cast, crew and audience are all too busy laughing! 

A no-holds-barred approach to the chaos of live theatre and the joyousess of audience interactions

Unsurprisingly for the talented Mischief Company, this is a show that thrives off improvisation and a little bit of organised chaos, with some of the production’s best moments coming from cheeky audience interactions, surprising suggestions, corpsing cast members and a magician doing everything in his power to convince audiences to provide the ‘right’ answer for the magic trick to ‘succeed’. 

The giggles were infectious across both cast and audience; and never more so than when one eager audience member – having been asked to provide an animal for the Mind Mangler’s hypnotisation sequence – shouted from the back row of the stalls “Shovelnose Guitarfish!”

Yes, that is a real fish.

And yes Lewis’s Mind Mangler cleverly figured out how to ‘become’ a shovelnose guitarfish, intermittently shouting “I dig a hole with my nose” in a rock star voice throughout the rest of the production: always to thundering applause and breathless laughter. 

It is this no-holds-barred approach to the chaos of live theatre and the joyousess of the audience interactions filling the 100 minute or so show, that create the true magic of this production. An energy and commitment-to-the-bit fully embraced by Lewis and Sayer, whose noticeable chemistry, easy improvisation style and wacky characters make the show the full laughter fest that it is.

Henry Lewis and Jonathon Sayer appear as the Mind Mangler and the Stooge
(Image: Pamela Raith)

Their comedic timing is always perfect, their jokes always fresh and engaging, and their commitment to the artistry of magic always awe-inspiring. Because despite all the jokes, this is a production that holds some really impressive magic acts too. With the magic supervised by magician Ben Hart, the Mind Mangler and co truly pull off some clever tricks, despite all the obvious red herrings. We certainly left exclaiming “How did they do that” to a trick or three! 

Supporting the array of delightful tricks is a truly dazzling set created by Sara Perks, a team of quick-witted crew members and an atmospheric musical arrangement created by late composer Steven Brown. Brown died earlier this year, and received a special thank you by Sayer on behalf of the cast in the curtain call, all of whom credit Brown with creating the music that lifts up and enhances the entire production. The soundscape (created by Helen Skiera) was particularly fantastic, aiding the jokes and tricks as they were performed, and going awry in the perfect moments for the audience to step in. 

The magic never stops, except when the cast, crew and audience are all too busy laughing! 

Directed by Hannah Sharkey, it’s this cohesion of technical elements with live theatre chaos that is the truest magic of the show.

Because it is impossible to bring a show like this to life – a show which must convince its audience of its legitimacy as a magic act even as the magic falls apart- without the musical and technical effects to transport audiences into that magical world. 

It is these effects that ensure the show’s pace, actors, magic tricks and aroma of laughter remain entirely in rhythm throughout the show, a rhythm that remained bubbly, fresh and fun throughout our Sunday evening escapade.

A magical concoction of infectious comedy, clever theatrics and amazing magic, the Mind Mangler is a joy to witness and participate in – because yes there are many chances to participate in the magic yourself, especially if you choose to sit in the front few rows! And even if you aren’t blessed with a front row seat to the action, not only are there participation activities for the whole audience throughout the show (and the interval!), but it is impossible not to get sucked into the magic from every single seat of the house. 

As one usher shared with us “the show really is different every night”. Such a versatility of performances and openness to explore and play on stage is a testament to a company that continually places audience interaction at the heart of everything it does, and at the core of every iteration of [blank] Goes Wrong that it creates. 

The Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle is no exception – so whether you’re a fan of Mischief, magic or mere merriment, this is a show not to be missed! 

The Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle will play at London’s Apollo Theatre until April 28th, with tickets available to purchase at