Ella Reeves is left on the edge of her seat by a spectacular show by some of the world's best magicians - The Illusionists

Magic shows never used to be like this.
Bizarre, charming and dramatic: the show pulls together seven of the world’s best magicians into a spectacular night, which veers from the traditional to the surreal.

It is pure entertainment from beginning to end – and it begins before we have even taken our seats at a lively New Theatre, Oxford.

American Jeff Hobson, flamboyant in a tartan suit, is walking through the audience, welcoming us with utmost sincerity (“Hi, hello, nice to see you!”), while making balloon animals and cracking jokes for the mums and dads. Going by the name The Trickster, he acts as the show’s comic relief – but as we soon discover, this master of slight of hand is more than just a comedian.

The Illusionists are in the midst of a world tour, having just flown in from Dubai, but the style of the show is ideally suited to a British audience gearing up for pantomime season.

The audience is a healthy mix of children, parents, grandparents and twenty-to-thirty-somethings, which says a lot about the show’s broad appeal. The line-up contains a carefully balanced combination of recklessness, intrigue, comedy, and sex appeal. There really is something for everyone.

The question is: do they have any tricks up their sleeves? They surely do. Granted, they would need very big sleeves for their first trick: as a little starter-for-ten, they magic a full-sized steam train onto the stage in a puff of smoke. The choreographed light dancers were a little 1970s Saturday night television, but it was very well-staged.

They don’t even need to ask us to suspend disbelief for the next two hours as we are whisked away into a whirlwind of delights, the atmosphere changing seamlessly from artist to artist.

The best bits are the most unbearable to watch, such as when the macabre ‘Anti Conjuror’ (a young American goth called Dan Sperry) inconceivably pulls a piece of thread of dental floss from his eye.  The children (and most grown-ups, too) attempted to cover their eyes while peeking through their fingers – squirming but unable to resist the temptation to gawp.

A magic show wouldn’t be complete without sawing an assistant in half, and we are treated to this classic by The Gentleman (magician Mark Kalin) and The Enchantress (his aptly-named attractive assistant, Jinger Leigh). This is contrasted with The Inventor’s entirely gruesome version of the trick. You truly would not believe your eyes.

It quickly becomes clear that it’s not just The Enchantress who is easy on the eye. Escapologist Andrew Basso’s edge-of-seat Houdini-style escape from a glass-sided water torture cell is a show-stopping favourite... and not just because of the Italian’s skill in picking padlocks underwater: there was a roar of wolf-whistles from the ladies when he stripped to reveal a pair of figure-hugging swimming shorts!

There were plenty of opportunities for audience participation (if that’s your sort of thing). Perhaps the real star of the show was Anne from Bicester, who is welcomed on stage to help The Trickster with a disappearing-reappearing egg trick. When asked to wave her hand in the air, she does so with such flourish that it elicits an “are you mocking me?” from the seemingly unflappable magician.

To say more would be to give too much away, because we surely haven’t seen the last of The Illusionists. This world-class act will be back, and will continue to amaze audiences with a bombastic night of trickery, fireworks and rock music played by a band who would be worth coming to see in their own right (they’ve previously played alongside hip-hop stars Nas and Kanye West, and have performed on stage at Glastonbury).

If, like me, you think you know about magic, The Illusionists will challenge you to think again.