Edinburgh Fringe 2012
An impressive hour of illusion and the power of suggestion as Richard Wiseman explores the common ground between being a magician and a psychologist. There’s more overlap than you might imagine.
Richard Wiseman is a magician turned psychologist whose reputation is founded on his research into luck, self-help, persuasion and illusion. Psychology and magic have a lot in common – they both attempt to control your attention so that you don’t see what’s really going on.
Wiseman neatly illustrates this with the first trick that most magicians learn, the art of making a coin disappear with one hand and then reappear in the other. But as he deconstructs the trick, apparently allowing the audience to see how he palms the coin from hand to hand, so he succeeds in distracting everyone with his patter, ensuring their eyes are focused on everything but the essential part of the illusion. We are left no wiser at the end than we were at the start, only more impressed with the man’s obvious dexterity.
Moving onto mind reading (arguably a skill most psychologists need in bucket loads) he demonstrates how the brain responds to suggestion and how the mind can be controlled if it can be framed within a given set of circumstances. Take the old “choose a card, any card routine”, for example. If you can frame your stooge’s mind, seduce them through the power of suggestion and make sure that you’ve rigged the deck, then identifying the card they’ve picked at random is easy. If you know how. And he does.
Effortless badinage with his clearly enthralled audience, ready wit and a nice line in self-deprecating humour characterise this excellent hour of magic, illusion and fun. Wiseman is both an amusing raconteur and a bewitching magician, or should I say illusionist. He’s clever with words and suggestion, as you might expect – just watch as he convinces you he’s about to turn a tea towel into a chicken! My brain was frantically trying to work out just where this feathery object was going to appear from when the denouement arrived – I was so far wide of the mark that it isn’t worth reporting on.
He moves on to explain that our brains are programmed to fill in blanks, substituting for what isn’t there. So, for example, people see faces where none exist, simply because, as humans, we are more afraid of missing potential contact than we are embarrassed by seeing a ‘face’ that isn’t there. This, apparently, busts the mystique surrounding ghosts, the Turin Shroud and a whole load of other myths. But you must have a special kind of brain to pull off Wiseman’s final trick, that of getting a member of the audience to shout out a number at random and then completing a blank ‘mini-Suduko’ where every combination of rows, columns, diagonals and blocks adds up to the seemingly random number he has to work with.
This show is part of the growing free Fringe and represented an excellent hour’s entertainment, amusing and yet very informative. Hard to beat in fact. But get there early as he’s packing then into The Canon’s Gate – it was standing room only when I was there, and not much of that available either!