Colin Cloud is a magician racking up the YouTube hits after reaching the finals of America’s Got Talent last year. He is billed as the closest thing to a real life Sherlock Holmes due to his uncanny insight, deducing audience members birthdays through a glance, and Holmes-like extreme attention to detail. I can readily imagine Cloud cataloguing 243 different types of tobacco ash in the vein of Benedict Cumberbatch’s enigmatic version of the detective. Yet, he has more in common with Conan Doyle’s original, in that for all his extraordinary ability, he doesn’t come across as very nice.
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat reinvented Holmes, turning his sociopathic tendencies into an alluring aloofness that is probably behind the rise of self-proclaimed ‘sapiosexuals’ on Bumble. In Psycho(Logical) Cloud’s disconnection from the audience feels more like a judgemental superiority than the distance inevitable when you are a tortured genius in a lovely Victorian-inspired suit. I am all for magicians being evil. There is a serious gap in the magic circle regarding Slytherin representation. My guess that most avoid the demonic approach as it’s a very difficult mantle to take on, considering the uneasy power dynamics instantly produced in the room when you appear to be able to read your victims’ audience’s minds.
Cloud performs a combination of mentalism, quasi-faux-spiritualism and some comedy that doesn’t really land, but the tricks themselves are exemplary. This is a very difficult review to write without spoilers and for that reason I’m not going to talk about the actual acts in any detail. To do so would take away the surprise of the show and ruin some impressive illusions. So in the luxury of an Exeunt wordcount, I am going to talk less about what Cloud does, but rather how he does it – and what perhaps that says about the deception of cold-reading and clairvoyance and my unease with it as an artform. Namely that every time I go to see a mentalist, even though I am at least 70% sure they can’t see into my brain – I’m always scared they know what I’m thinking.
Because inevitably I’m thinking ‘dear gods, I don’t like mind readers. Even good ones.’
The concept of anyone who’s not a therapist poking around in there makes me uncomfortable and creepy. ‘We think that we like being scared,’ Cloud intones, ‘but what we really like is scaring other people’. I disagree, I think the reason that humans spend millions of pounds on the horror industry; films, novels, live experiences where you get chased through a maze with an axe, isn’t because we like frightening our pals. In a world where so much is terrifying, fictive fear is an escape.
It’s an adrenaline rush with known perimeters: we can turn the show off, there’s nothing under the bed, we can be sure that ninety-nine times out of a hundred that the parachute will employ. Fear of the unknown is key in magic, and its ability to expand our limitations and push against what we know to be possible. But it must be contained within a safety net. If we fall (you are falling) in too deep (in to a deep, deep sleep), we need to know that you’re going to be there to catch us. Instead Psycho(Logical) sends you out worried about what Cloud has left uninvited and unwelcome in your brain.
I wonder if Cloud’s statement should be altered: We think that we like being tricked, but what we really like is being tricked with other people. In a magic show we are taking delight in our mass-fooling, turning to our neighbour to share a teeny moment of wonder – How did he know that? Was the paper in his palm? Where did that rabbit come from? (spoiler – there is no rabbit) [As in there is no rabbit in the show, not like “there is no spoon”, we’re living in the Matrix)] So when that connection isn’t inbuilt into the show, our awe is lonely, overly focussed on the one man in control instead of sharing the magic around. Holmes was a great detective, but would he have made a great magician? Cloud has the Sherlock skills, but he lacks the Watson humanity.
Colin Cloud Psycho(Logical) is on until 27 August 2018 at Pleasance Grand. Click here for more details.