Review: Hocus Pocus (Soulpepper Theatre)

Magician David Ben dazzles audiences as part of Soulpepper Theatre’s Family Festival in Toronto

Photo of David Ben in Hocus Pocus by Cylla Von TiedemannAlthough I have seen my fair share of magic performances on YouTube or at street festivals, Soulpepper Theatre‘s Hocus Pocus is the first full-length magic show I have seen live and I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Magician David Ben, a seasoned performer with fantastic showmanship and a wry sense of humour, has created an entertaining production that appeals to kid and adult audiences alike.

Hocus Pocus is styled as a vintage parlour magic show inspired by the tricks of famous (mostly Western) magicians throughout history. While he performed his own version of these illusions, feats, and slights of hand, Ben would also elucidate the intriguing history behind their development. Some of these tricks may have been seen many times before but there was still something extra – dare I say it – magical at seeing them being performed live.

Even though it was interesting to hear accounts from the history of Western magic, what I found more fascinating were the segments where Ben spoke of his own familial connections with magic. The autobiographical stories of his relatives who had their own brushes with magic added a welcoming personal touch to the show and allowed Ben to really emphasize his passion for the craft.

Another aspect of the show I really enjoyed was how it endeavored to encourage an enthusiasm and appreciation for the art of magic in audiences. One of the themes throughout the show was the idea of inviting the audience to “learn magic”. This later provided fodder for some of Ben’s more mystifying tricks which involved him making it appear as if audience members who were randomly called up from their seats were capable of performing amazing feats of magic.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Hocus Pocus included diverse artists in the production with Producer Julie Eng as the “Onstage Assistant” and poetry from Spoken Word Artist La-Vane Kelly. However, as an artist of East Asian descent, I was disappointed to find that while Ben named the famous Western magicians who developed his tricks, he did not extend similar credits to the Japanese magic featured in the show. At the talkback Ben explained that he learned the trick from a well-known family of Japanese magicians in exchange for a Western trick and it would have been nice for the performance to have credited the family or acknowledged this exchange in some way.

Additionally I would advise audiences members to purchase seats closer to the front if possible. There were a few tricks that I could not see very well from where I was sitting as small silver coins or pieces of paper can occasionally disappear without the aid of magic under stage lights.

Nevertheless, Hocus Pocus is a fun, well-crafted show that seemed to really delight the younger members of the audience. Just get there early to avoid being delayed by the Distillery District holiday crowds.


Photo of David Ben by Cylla Von Tiedemann.