This Is Cabaret Rating: ★★★★
I know what you’re thinking: by making money from pretending to read minds, is Doug Segal’s latest show better described as theatre or fraud? In fact, would this show be better dealt with by The Stage or the police? Neither, really. There are no nods to Beckett or Shakespeare here, nor is there any attempt to take away anything greater than your breath or your time.
Quite how Segal achieves what he does is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside yesterday’s newspapers. Some of what he does can be seen elsewhere – there are quite a few other “mentalist” acts around performing similar feats of headfuckery. None, though, employ his techniques of suggestion, statistics, showmanship, lying, cheating and legerdemain with quite the same panache.
He may not be able to read thoughts but Segal’s show isn’t above creating them in one’s head on regular occasions. The first thought is usually “how did he do that?”, quickly followed by “no, but really. How the hell?” In this world where we are led to believe that we know everything about everything twice because we saw it in the news and on social media, it is refreshing to be utterly baffled by an expert who wants nothing more from us than our attention and our applause.
Is it worth describing what he does in detail? Not particularly. Segal’s skills lie less in what he does but how he does it. He has banter and stagecraft in the kind of quality and quantity that many stand-ups and actors would sell all their remaining grandparents for. Whether spoken out loud, shown on a screen or implicit in his actions, this ex-ad man’s insights into the mental processes of his fellow homo sapiens are evident in each of his set pieces and give a depth to How To Read Minds and Influence People that many of its competition often lacks.
His ease and interaction with the audience is remarkable, even when compared to the cream of the cabaret scene. The show hangs on not just Segal’s actions but his volunteers’ reactions. His grand finale – teaching an audience member one of his techniques – is a risky venture which adds a human dimension to what in other hands could be a by-the-numbers production.
Whether employing sleight of hand or sleight of mind, this noggin magician knows how to juggle with our expectations and defies them at every turn. A few hundred years ago, similar antics would have seen him burnt at the stake; these days, only his name should be lit up.
Doug Segal’s How To Read Minds and Influence People continues at the Edinburgh Fringe until 30 August. More details here: http://www.comedy.co.uk/fringe/2015/doug_segal/