MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
AT THE ILLUSIONIST’S TABLE ★★★★½
Chapter House (Alpha60), Flinders Lane, until October 20
Magic shows are for children and connoisseurs of bad taste − slicing up leggy assistants and pulling rabbits out of hats. Right?
Not here. This a magic show for grown-ups and if you like whisky you’ll find a little extra sparkle in the form of some carefully chosen single malts.
Yes, within the first few minutes we’re shuffling cards and our host has proven he can correctly guess our number and suit each time. But once that’s out of the way, its clear the Scottish-born, New York-based illusionist − or mentalist, as he is often billed − is about to take us deeper.
The attention to detail, elaborate planning, theatrical finesse and storytelling behind Scott Silven’s show amount to a complex and beautiful work that simultaneously inspires a sense of nostalgia and adventure.Credit:Alice Boreas
Scott Silven is performing two shows at the Melbourne International Arts Festival: Wonders, an hour-long offering at the Spiegeltent on weekends (you can still get tickets to that, at the time of writing); and this, a considerably longer, more intimate experience (now sold out), delivered during a three-course dinner paired with drinks.
It's a one-of-a-kind experience and worth its $400 price tag − not least for the delicious champagne on arrival followed by free-flowing wine, whisky and a sophisticated menu (provided by Sofitel) designed to provoke the senses and, with some inspired twists, enhance the evening's absorbing narrative.
Silven recounts evocative “flashbulb memories” from his childhood, lulling us into a state of vulnerability and coaxing images and connections from within through techniques such as visualisation and a variation of Chinese whispers. Even the most sceptical at the table seemed bewildered by some of his reveals.
Apart from an evidently fast mind, the clues to Silven’s success are all in the details − and I don’t just mean whether you can crack how he crafts his tricks. The mossy foliage adorning the stairs as we entered the foyer, the perfect setting of the Chapter House loft with its churchy ceiling and wooden floorboards, the wooden boxes and musty books, the row of candelabra flickering in the centre of the long table, flames dancing across our faces − they all provided an environment ripe for imagination.
I have been to a few a “food art” events before − experiences that speak to many senses by pushing culinary boundaries or pairing edibles with music, scent or visuals − but, without giving away the surprises, those aspects of this performance were next level and seamlessly incorporated into the many layers of the performance.
The attention to detail, elaborate planning, theatrical finesse and storytelling behind At the Illusionist’s Table amount to a complex and beautiful work that simultaneously inspires a sense of nostalgia and adventure.
Silven perhaps drove home a point about connection between his guests a little too hard − after all, there were meal breaks during which there was plenty of opportunity to bond with our new acquaintances over the feats we were experiencing together. The self-reflective elements of the show were probably enough on their own to elegantly tie it all together.
Silven peppered tidbits about his process and motivations throughout the evening and in doing so transformed what would alone be a spectacular display of mental agility into an active invitation to examine our own thoughts and memories, subtleties in perception, the power of suggestion and our own agency.
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