Sleight & Hand

Sleight & Hand’s purposefully heavy-handed opening speech casts a shadow over its self-conscious remainder: this piece of new writing by Chris Bush is so knowing you’d really expect it to teach us something. Although its story isn’t entirely derivative, often it is markedly less enchanting than a show about magicians ought to be.

The play follows the fairly well-trodden plot trajectory of a struggling illusionist (Edwin Sleight) who, seeking fame and fortune, searches for an accomplice - specifically one named ‘Hand’ - in order to make his magic act’s name stand out.

The play follows the fairly well-trodden plot trajectory of a struggling illusionist (Edwin Sleight) who, seeking fame and fortune, searches for an accomplice - specifically one named ‘Hand’ - in order to make his magic act’s name stand out. The resulting series of interviews with unsuitable candidates is a nice idea, but its rapid, reductive execution makes it feel more like a Judd Apatow montage than the intelligent character comedy it could have been. Some of these caricatures actually verge on the offensive, true also of some of Natalie Wallace’s accents. When these characters are ingeniously recalled later in the production, they still only half-justify their own presence.

Sam Collings and Natalie Wallace are an excellent match as Edwin Sleight and Iphigenia Hand, interweaving narrative sections with dialogue. Apart from the show’s eponymous characters, the pair are also given a series of complex multi-roling tasks to complete, showcasing some deft direction from Marieke Audsley. They battle over who will play the impossible character of Hand’s mother and they even share the role of a Scottish inspector, passing his Custodian helmet about like a hot potato. These metatheatrical moments are consistently amusing, but they serve little purpose other than to underline that the rest of the production just isn’t very funny.

Surprisingly, there’s little in the way of magic. There are a few beautiful moments of misdirection, but otherwise we focus mainly on the mystery of Lady Electra, a notorious but evasive practitioner of inexplicable publicity stunts. As our protagonists seek further information on the shady figure, tension between them grows; there is a potentially intriguing discussion of strict gender delineations, but as with the rest of the play, it fails to amount to anything profound.

There are many elements of a slick, fascinating production here, but the nuanced performances by Collings and Wallace just can’t save this script. It’s light-fingered, yes, but it won’t steal your heart.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Rising star Marieke Audsley directs a dazzling, whip-smart slice of Victoriana, the story of struggling illusionist Edwin Sleight who finds fame and fortune after joining forces with the quick-witted and light-fingered Iphigenia Hand.