Who: Nicholas Wallace
What: A work of fiction
Length: 55 minutes
Where: Staircase Theatre Bright Room (27 Dundurn Street North)
When: July 21-31 as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival
Tickets: $12 + $1.75 fee at https://boxoffice.hftco.ca/event/866:614/
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s actually a story about a story about a story, and I only think I remember it correctly. I can’t be certain, because Nicholas Wallace, master of the art of astonishment, did my head in about twenty times over the course of his magic-filled show. That, and the fact that I’m remembering it means I’m probably remembering everything at least a little bit wrong.
The thing that sets Wallace apart from other magicians is the way his shows are put together. While they’re technically excellent, Wallace’s shows slowly build dominos that are set up to the delight and surprise of his audience much later, and most importantly, his shows have an arc to them. They aren’t just trick-trick-trick-good night. They go places.
In the case of A Work of Fiction, Wallace starts with a tasks that seem unrelated: an audience member is asked to dance; an audience member (this reviewer) is asked to run down a flight of stairs; and a balloon, another stranger and the contents of another person’s wallet come together in a way that can only be described as magical and beyond explanation. Wallace also introduces a creepy box with a creepier doll in it (Vincent, we’re told) and pauses between tricks to tell us a story.
The story is about three sisters seeking the truth of the universe in a mysterious cave. To suggest more would spoil the surprise- and the concept of finding fun and awe in the unexpected is central to the enjoyment of this show.
When Wallace stops to tell this story, intermittently between tricks, nobody minds. The eerie, yet fun, faerie-tale atmosphere of the story matches the show’s energy perfectly, but more importantly, it’s all riveting.
As A Work of Fiction goes on, the title becomes clearer as Wallace talks about stories, memory, and community. He’s a true magician who not only uses magic tricks to bend your mind, but who just as often employs themes and concepts to blow it away. This is enhanced by Wallace’s stage presence and persona, which work impeccably with the material. He has a kind of unassuming innocence which charmingly belies the deception of his equally-impeccable slight of hand, while in the same breath sharing a demon-possessed showman’s patter about soul-stealer Vincent and other oddities of nature.
Surely much of the pacing, story, plot, atmosphere, and the way the tricks and ideas are woven together is owed to Wallace’s frequent Director and collaborator Luke Brown. This reviewer is no stranger to the work of either collaborator, having seen various iterations of their performances in the past. While A Work of Fiction is one of their less elaborate collaborations, for a past-follower of Wallace’s work, it feels even more refreshing. There is joy in the execution of the deceptive simplicity that Wallace shares.
The show would be worth watching for the magic or the story and ideas. But, lucky us, we get both.
Editor’s Note: In keeping in line with our values, it is noted that the writer of this review has worked with both Nicholas Wallace and Luke Brown in the past.