Melbourne International Arts Festival Wonders

Festivals, Reviews, Stage

Wonders Review (Melbourne International Arts Festival)

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In this age of pick’n’mix spirituality Scott Silven’s job description, “enchanting mentalism”, has a profound allure.

Well, it seems profound, greater than abracadabra, something akin to the synchronicity that Karl Jung insisted bound us to each other and gave cosmic meaning to coincidence. Don’t we all want a bit of that? “Trust your intuition,” Silven counsels us, and at his full-house Sunday matinee we surrendered, with some enjoyably mystifying outcomes. Nevertheless, I wished I’d taken a neuroscientist as my date. I’m no cynic, but I love a hard fact.

Silven learned hypnotism and the magic trade before studying drama at the University of Edinburgh. A dashing, Byronic Scot, he uses his gentle manner to killer effect in his well-travelled one-man show. There’s a lot of audience participation in Wonders, but don’t fret; within minutes of our settling in he’d turned strangers into cosy comrades, ready to do his – and each other’s – bidding.    

With awesome elegance, he spins pure mathematics into something utterly up to the minute.

Wonders is nimble in its (seeming) simplicity. Take a pencil. Write on a card the word that best describes you. Pass the card to the front. Imagine yourself gazing at the night sky. Join the dots between the stars. What pictures do you make? Draw them on a slip of paper. Trust your intuition.

Silven acts almost as a psychoanalyst, coaxing us along what feels like a personal journey into the collective consciousness. He builds the responses layer by layer, arranging reveals so that even when a trick seems complete – or a complete failure – a new surprise jumps out.

With awesome elegance, he spins pure mathematics into something utterly up to the minute. Doodles by baffled volunteers suddenly make sense, and the Oxford English Dictionary becomes a tool of mastery over the mind.

Is there really a deep, extra-sensory connection between long-time lovers? Silven “tests” the theory in one of his most elaborate ruses, involving a couple from the audience and a map ripped to shreds by the other 298 of us. Extraordinary. I shall say no more.

Melbourne has seen many of the world’s best illusionists, and there was a time when explosive special effects set the fashion in magic. Wonders – spare, minimalist – feels just right for today. Its Downton Abbey-style bits of furniture are winsomely at home in the Spiegeltent, and so is Silven, whose spell-binding ways last well beyond the 90 minutes we spend with him. Can we really strike up a telepathic union with a stranger? Silven makes us believe we can. That, perhaps, is the lasting pleasure of Wonders.

Footnote: Children are welcome at Wonders. There’s no obscenity and nothing scary, and I’d recommend it for kids aged eight and above who like word and number games. The Spiegeltent is a licenced venue, but in this case its 18-plus age limit is for parental guidance.

Wonders plays at the Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne Forecourt, until October 20

Tickets: $49-$59 at

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