Review: Tricks (Magicana and Soulpepper)

Tricks - David BenTricks brings Victorian-style parlour magic to the Young Centre stage in Toronto

The very best way to see a magic show is with a kid. My grandson Max (almost seven) and I saw David Ben’s Tricks — part of Soulpepper’s Family Festival — on Saturday afternoon at the Young Centre. We had a terrific time.

Max kept saying “Wow!” and “How did he do that?” and leaning forward to try and see how the trick worked.

Afterwards I asked him which trick was his favourite: “The last one. The one with the needles!” The one where Ben ‘swallows’ 20 needles and then regurgitates them — all threaded onto a very long piece of thread. The one that had me gagging, even though I’m pretty sure that no needles actually went into Ben’s mouth.

The other one he told his mum about was the one where Ben hypnotized the water so it stayed in the glass. (It was the goldfish that Ben was hypnotizing and the glass – with water and goldfish – was upside down). I liked that one a lot too.

In the program notes, Ben explains that in the Victorian and early Edwardian periods there were two types of magic. The kind performed in a theatre and the kind performed in a salon. Tricks is sleight-of-hand, a more intimate magic, the kind that was performed in salons.

There’s none of the glitz that is sometimes associated with magic shows. There aren’t a lot of props or tools, no big fancy machines; the focus is on Ben and his magic.

Don’t expect a scantily clad magician’s assistant, either. Julie Eng wheels in small tables and a fishbowl, handing Ben new decks of cards when he needs them. They work well together.

John Lang’s music is perfect, matching and guiding the tempo of the show. Cameron Davis’s projections on the screens on either side of the stage add to the ‘olden days’ feel of the production. There are old illustrations from a magic manual, diagrams of tricks, and pictures of famous magicians of yore.

There’s lots of help from the audience. Part of Ben’s magic is that he just points to someone and asks them to join him on the stage and they do. He does it so smoothly and quickly that there isn’t time for a lot of head ducking and avoiding eye contact. I was impressed. Of course, there were a lot of kids in the audience and some of them were very eager to go onstage.

Ben has a lovely stage presence. He’s relaxed, his humour is gentle and he’s kind to the audience members that help him on stage. He actually flubbed two card tricks but recovered nicely and kept going.

I found the pace of the show a bit slow, but in a good way. It gave me a chance to watch more closely than I’m usually able to in other magic shows. It was fascinating watching Ben’s hands. I could tell he was doing something with them but I still couldn’t see exactly what it was. Truthfully, I don’t actually want to know.

He held Max’s attention for 90 minutes. No mean feat.

The show is advertised as suitable for kids over eight. Max is six and he was fine. You know your kids. If they can sit for 90 minutes then they’ll be fine. It’s a lovely family time.


  • Tricks is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until January 3rd
  • Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, Wednesday at 2 pm with matinees starting on December 24th
  • Ticket prices range from $24 to $69 with a family package available
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416.866.8666 or at the box office

Photo of David Ben by David Linsell