(seen at the performance on 13th August 2022).
When you open by producing a full-size helicopter from nowhere, as illusionists you have few options with which to further impress your audience. That is unless you are masters of the craft of “big box” magic, with plenty of skill in executing the smaller stuff equally well.
The Ehrlich Brothers regularly fill large arenas in Germany, and many fans travelled with them to be in England for this show. Mixing the magical with self-penned German ballads (think right-hand Eurovision scoreboard finishing standard) and a little Teutonic humour (a whole routine based on loo roll for one hapless volunteer) it is an entertaining 140 minutes.
Few British magicians could present in this way to a German audience in their own language, but using a script by British magician Richard Young (of “Young and Strange”) and reading it from a tablet carried by an assistant, the Brothers stalked the arena in search of wedding bands to join, cash to borrow (returned to Ant with interest) and children on which to bestow T-shirts full of sweets.
Not since David Copperfield in the early 1990s has the UK seen live magic on this scale. Less slick in overall presentation perhaps than Copperfield, the duo are considerably more likable (not just because they didn’t end up with Claudia Schiffer, destroying a generation of teen fantasies), quickly winning over the large crowd.
“Big Box” faces two problems in this country. The first is a lack of suitable venues. With live magic insufficient year-round draw to justify a purpose-built show room, arenas like Wembley are the only option. Even blocking off vast numbers of seats at the sides, audiences close to the stage may see rather more than magicians would like.
The second issue remains “The Masked Magician.” Fans of this late 1990s TV series will remember Valentino hosting hour-long specials revealing how the most popular huge tricks are done. For some, it changes the pleasure of “how did they do that” into “how well did they do that?” The monkey is somewhat in the second category but is delighted to report in this case, “jaw-droppingly.”
Huge on pyrotechnics and confetti-cannons, with parachuting sweets, flying bands and parklands of smoke (sorry, but) - women appear and disappear first in a wheel and later from (not in) Lederhosen; men are on stage one minute and in the auditorium the next – well a bit longer than usual as it is a pretty fair sprint in that place; and gold becomes a sports car.
Fortunately, they know to balance things a little with one of the best “close up” card-tricks the monkey has seen in years. Some French chat with a game young lady from block B, if you want to know how she has so many cards in her hands... you’ll probably need to learn the trick yourself, and still won’t be close to how well it is performed by Ehrlich.
Equally beautiful, the “aerial ballet” is state-of-the-art – refining a technique to the point even the most cynical will wish to believe in.
So, a wonderful collection of creations great and small – and the producers of “Back To The Future The Musical” should be in contact to find more spectacular ways of getting their DeLorean off the stage at the end.
If there are faults, the running order could perhaps be tweaked to allow a smoother emotional journey for viewers; and the risk-assessment of stampeding children to the front for sweets maybe reconsidered.
A neat version of a trick “Penn and Teller” (and indeed Chris Cox) does with the audience is rather thrown away as there is no pause for us to consider the remarkable effect. Likewise, a “back-reference” joke doesn’t land as the preceding “sawing your brother in half” trick had already gone on rather too long - incidentally upsetting a sensitive few but supporting German bratwurst makers for years to come.
As mentioned, the angle of some seats allowed folk a glimpse of bike in black curtain, too-thick equipment edges, surreptitious hands in pockets and assistant crouching when the projection showed her standing behind a screen. That the producers thoughtlessly displaced many audience members by re-arranging the front block’s layout proved perhaps unhelpful in more ways than expected.
Missing too is a final climax equal to the opening feat. Flying an audience member off stage on a motorbike is fun, but unless you can do it for everybody it doesn’t quite match what has gone before. It might also be hoped the wives are understanding of the attractive extra guest at the backstage party afterwards... now that could be an unusual way to end the show, maybe... "spitting a couple in two!"
This particular night, events did end on an unrepeatable extra. As an encore, The Ehrlich Brothers were presented with an International Achievement award by Megan Swann, chair of the British Magic Circle. Well deserved, and the men did well looking surprised as the photographs had been shot on stage at the interval (picture, above, lower right). Monkey mentions this as photography was only permitted at that time and it doesn't want anyone reading to think it would break such an important rule.
They Ehrlich Brothers return to Wembley Arena on 30th September 2023, with tickets now on sale at www.ehrlich-brothers.com. If you want an evening of Las Vegas style with a European flavour, this is for you.
N.B: For those who couldn’t be there, the evening was filmed for DVD, and possible ITV television release at some later point. The (paying) audience spent an interminable time forced to clap and cheer in different emotional ways against different lighting to create shots and sound which could be edited in. Most enjoyed it, the monkey didn’t, feeling it a bit of a nerve not to at least pre-warn us and offer both informed consent and a choice of arriving later.
Even a free and very nifty 3-effect light-up baton wasn’t much compensation in the end. A gripe but further proof, if it is needed, just how well they did to pull it back from this questionable start.