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Edinburgh Fringe 2009

The Shadow Orchestra

Xavier Mortimer

Venue: New Town Theatre, Free Mason’s Hall


Low Down

A show that has music, magic, mime and movement. Xavier Mortimer creates a world of illusion with a shadow orchestra, marvellous magic and great charm.


Hard to tell where to place this show in the categories of music, mime, physical theatre or magic – it is all of them and it is itself – a delicate, conjured up world that we are privileged to enter for the time we are in the theatre.

From the moment, the slight, boyish figure of Xavier Mortimer, accordion slung over his shoulder, wanders onto the stage and strikes up a tune, we are transported into a wonderful world of illusion and make-believe.

While Mortimer is a skilled magician and uses illusion throughout the show, this is no simple magic show. The tricks and illusions are woven into a seamless narrative of music and sketches punctuated by humour and accompanied by shadows. Mortimer’s Peter Pan-like presence blends all this together into a phantasmagoria of wistful charm.

As Mortimer plays a haunting Parisian tune on the accordion he finds himself joined by a company of shadow musicians who appear on the white sheet behind him. They are an unruly lot who jostle for position, toss objects backwards and forwards over the sheet and generally vie for the limelight. Xavier Mortimer’s interaction with the video installation that is the shadow orchestra behind him is humorous and impeccably timed. And as the show progresses, what happens on the screen takes the wings of imagination to become increasingly surreal – winged tubas fly though the air, chairs bend their legs to canter across the screen like horses.

In front of the screen, Mortimer plays a variety of instruments and appears bewildered at the series of illusions that emerge as he plays. A glimmering bauble runs up and down his arm mesmerising us, appearing and disappearing, and as one vanishes another is suddenly plucked from nowhere. One strange object after another is plucked from a tuba – a monkey wrench, a bottle of wine: the tuba seems bottomless and the band plays on. A balloon sculpture shapes itself into a small guitar and strikes up the unmistakable riff of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’. As Mortimer plays a tambourine, one of the metal jingles on the instrument comes loose and from then on a veritable torrent of shiny objects, coins, and CDs and more, materialise out of nowhere. There is one “How did he do that?” moment after another.

When Xavier Mortimer appears to take his bow, there is a moment’s wonder that one man could have created so much from so little – the music, the shadow orchestra, and the magic are all his.