Like magic, crowds of people are back at the Sydney Opera House. But there’s no spell against the global disease pandemic.

We’re all masked, of course, and separated somewhat in the cosy confines of the Studio. But what’s a magic show without audience interaction? The pulse quickens just a little as the magician steps down into the audience…

James Galea's Best Trick EverJames Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER. Photo © Prudence Upton

But fear not. James Galea, accomplished card shark and leader of this “magic jam”, is too genial a host to contaminate any of his guests (we hope). The plastic gloves go on. A reasonably safe distance is maintained. And those lucky/unlucky enough to be called up are asked to sanitise via handy stage-side dispensers. One man who offers up his jacket for an impressive piece of illusion has it thoroughly sprayed with disinfectant before its return.

We’re in James’ house, or at least a clubhouse-like set where some of the country’s best magicians are lounging each night, like the Avengers of wizardry. Joining him, “unusualist” Raymond Crowe, “escapologist” Helen Coghlan, sleight-of-hand star Dom Chambers and Rubik’s Cube master Vincent Kuo each get their time to shine in a breezy 75-minute show of mind-bending moments.

James Galea's BEST TRICK EVER. Photo © Prudence UptonJames Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER. Photo © Prudence Upton

A spectacle it isn’t, at least not on the scale of The Illusionists, the large-scale magic supergroup that filled the Concert Hall a couple of years back. This is magic up-close, trick and treat of storytelling, as they gab with James about how and why they got into the business of show. If palling around with a bunch of magicians off the clock is your idea of fun then this is very much the show for you.

Galea started as a teenage trickster, performing in fringe and comedy festivals and headlining his own magic shows everywhere from Japan to Las Vegas. He even bamboozled Ellen DeGeneres on television in a clip that’s been watched millions of times on YouTube. He’s a born entertainer, tinkling on a grand piano to open the show before stunning the crowd with some nifty card play, captured on camera and broadcast to a large screen for the whole audience to see.

But Galea is happy to share the spotlight. And it’s his entourage that really steals the show.

The gentlemanly Crowe, in tuxedo with an air of vaudeville, takes the aforementioned jacket and somehow brings it to life, dancing with it across the stage. No wires here, at least that we could see.

James Galea's Best Trick Ever Helen Coghlan in James Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER. Photo © Prudence Upton

Coghlan, a female trailblazer in the art of escape, builds then locks herself in a seemingly inescapable box before magically emerging from behind a curtain just seconds later. Don’t ask me how, though it’s somewhat of an anti-climax after watching the tedious construction.

Chambers, the every-bloke from any Aussie barstool, produces pints of beer from the most extraordinary places. And barely spills a drop. He brings the most energy to the performance. And Kuo not only solves his coloured cube before our eyes but magically transforms it in thin air.

James Galea's Best Trick Ever 3Vincent Kuo in James Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER. Photo © Prudence Upton

Kuo jokes his skills come from “being Asian”. But he also offers a surprising moment of pathos, explaining how developing his dexterity was a strategy to overcome shyness in the schoolyard. There is something a little earnest, a little old-school entertainment, about each of these performers. In an entertainment market where so many of us are seeking a comfort watch, this may well do just the trick.

If you’re after sound-and-light spectacle and death-defying escape you won’t find it here. James Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER is a decidedly more intimate affair, which in the current environment of social distancing is plenty dangerous enough.

James Galea’s BEST TRICK EVER runs at the Studio, Sydney Opera House until 14 February

Supported by the City of Sydney

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