Richard Wiseman’s Psychobabble feels like an assembly. Llike the photographs of ‘things that look like faces’ he delights in showing us, I mean you to read that in two ways. First, that Wiseman feels like a very funny psychology teacher, delivering the most entertaining lesson most sixth formers have ever seen. The second, is that his show feels assembled rather than written – pooled from the resources of himself and others rather than conceived of as a satisfying whole.
Wiseman is a psychologist, writer, magician and a regular speaker on the sceptics circuit, next to people like Ben Goldacre and Robin Ince. His atheism and advocacy of science infuse much of his material as he sets about to demystify the psychology behind magic and other entertainments. Magicians explaining their tricks is a dominant feature of much mainstream magic. However, Wiseman can claim something new in his approach – going slightly deeper into the evolutionary psychology that prompts our eyes to move with his hand.
He moves from his opening magic tricks into a section of photographs and videos, optical illusions that tease and fascinate with their double meanings. Again, Wiseman gives these things new depth. He defines them as accidents that happen in the rare circumstances when the amazing pattern-spotting capabilities of our brains get things slightly wrong. Yet even this insight can’t save us from the fact that we are effectively in the midst of a student evening of LOLcat sharing.
It’s a limited formul and one that often feels more like ‘Richard Wiseman’s Twitter Feed, Live!’ than a distinct unit of work. However, this also lets Wiseman’s charm hold the show together and he shares a warmth with his audience that would be difficult to cultivate in a more ambitious production. Psychobabble gets away with it by magic, diversion and cunning sleight of hand.