Alas poor Hampstead. First it lost its Arts Council funding and now it appears to have carelessly lost its artistic director – the estimable Roxana Silbert – following the board’s hasty decision to swerve the theatre away from its new writing remit and what makes it both distinctive and necessary as part of the wider ecology... A shame, and I fear a mistake. Under Silbert, its downstairs programme has been a wonderful thing – mostly recently boasting a hit with Joe White’s greatly admired Blackout Songs. Silbert directed Edmond, a play by Anglo-French wunderkind Alexis Michalik while she was at Birmingham Rep, and now Hampstead gets the UK premiere of Michalik’s Moliere-winning Parisian hit inspired by the father of modern magic, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. There will be enchantments and conjuring tricks. Prepare to be mesmerised.
“It’s a matter of perception. The hands of time turn at the same speed for everyone. Yet a child waits what seems to be an eternity for summer, whilst an old man watches a year pass in the blinking of an eye” In 1984, as the France vs Yugoslavia match unfolds on TV, a man meets a woman in a Parisian café. He is returning a bag that she lost on the Paris Métro, but he doesn’t reveal he stole it... Instead, he tells her the story of Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, watchmaker, inventor, and master magician of the 19th century. Together they set out to find a vanished theatre beneath a bank vault in the Boulevard des Italiens, to break into a museum in the Trocadero, to uncover the mystery of the Mechanical Turk, to witness the birth of the kinetograph... and to delve ever deeper into the art of illusion.