2019 Toronto Next Stage Festival Review: Strange and Unusual (Flat Earth Global)

Magician Nick Wallace certainly knows how to entertain and mystify a crowd and he does exactly that with his show Strange and Unusual, playing at the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival at the Factory Theatre. Having previously stumped the legendary magic duo Penn and Teller, Wallace brings his show of mysticism, magic, hypnosis, and fortune telling to a Toronto audience bringing with it, laughs, gasps, applause and a good dose of cringe.

Strange and Unusual, co created and directed by Luke Brown, begins exactly as the title implies. Borrowing from the likes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work, Wallace explores humanity’s fascination with conspiracy theories, superstitions and psychics and phrases his illusions and tricks within these concepts. Speckled throughout are fascinating and rather disturbing historical tidbits of information to further disturb and fascinate the crowd.

As much as Wallace is accompanied by the lovely, and catatonic, Vicktoria Adam as his assistance, the audience plays the other vital role in this show. No magic show is complete without the audience’s profound disbelief which means audience participation is vital to the performance. Playing heavily into the theme of conspiracies in the show is the element of whether audience members are chosen at random or are they “planted” as part of the show.

And they must be because Wallace’s very elaborate tricks that do manage to catch the crowd completely off guard definitely could not be possible without them being carefully orchestrated and rehearsed, right? That couldn’t have been crafted out of thin air…right?

Wallace is certainly a master of his craft, and not just as a magician but with all the other aspects of being a magician — his intense connection with the crowd, his use of repetition, misdirection, and interaction, helps him build an intense audience reaction which makes Strange and Unusual a hoot to watch.

And yes, one of his more intense illusions, one that involves hypnosis, sensory deprivation, an audience member, and a rather long surgical needle had the crowd audibly gasping, cringing, and writhing in their seats. As did another trick that involved cookies, a razor blade, and a game of Russian roulette. If you are squeamish, you have been warned.

Strange and Unusual is a great show to add to your Next Stage schedule this year. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart and a riot to behold. Go forth and be mystified and dumbfounded — unless you are, in fact, a plant…

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Photo of Nick Wallace provided by the company

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