The Illusion

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The Illusion

Just last year, idiosyncratic US playwright Tony Kushner adapted Pierre Corneille's 1636 tragicomedy, 'L'Illusion Comique', to serve as the final show in a season of his work at New York's Signature Theatre. The lavish production scored decent reviews – so fair play to Brit director Seb Harcombe for sorting this UK premiere so quickly. But I suspect high production values and a partisan, pro-Kushner audience are key to the appeal of this strange play, which did very little for me in this fringe incarnation.

Like many of his near-contemporary Shakespeare works, Corneille's play uses a framing device to tell its story. But 'The Illusion' is notable for pushing said device to metatextual levels. Here nobleman Pridamant (James Clyde) seeks out magician Alcandre (Melanie Jessop) and begs her to tell him the location of his estranged son.

She does more than that, conjuring up four visions of the lad (Charlie Archer), who appears to be getting involved in progressively more caddish trysts with a woman (Daisy Hughes), her maid (Shanaya Rafaat) and a simpering nobleman (Adam Jackson-Smith). But why do their names change with every vision? And is Pridamant junior really this much of a tool?

There is a worthwhile pay-off to all this, when illusion and reality finally reconcile. But for the most part the conceptual bells and whistles simply serve to make a fairly bland romantic romp that bit more ungainly. Kushner has some fun with rhyming verse, but you wouldn't say he'd really left his stamp on proceedings. Harcombe's production is solidly acted, but to master this oddity a director needs more than mere efficiency.

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I've barely read such self inflated blind nonsense in a review, which is saying something, this was fabulously performed by a cast of often striking talent, it's an astonishing play in it's playfulness with what centuries later wd be called metatext, it's mentally fleet of foot and engaging, and Kushner's often brilliant wordsmithing keeps things sizzling. The published review is absolutely mad.


A potentially difficult play which is deftly brought to life by a stellar cast - spectacular!. Charlie Archer deserves particular mention.


Great play which we thoroughly enjoyed. Acting first rate especially Charlie Archer who was excellent.


The snobbish review above by Mr Lukowski makes me wonder if he has been to see the same production as I have. Such inability to see below the surface of things! . What a wonderful and imaginative interpretation of the play done with remarkable skill and commitment from the whole company. An evening well spent - congratulations to all involved!


Beautiful, intriguing stuff, beguiling and sensitive. One of the best things I've seen in ages. Definately going again. Well done Southwark Playhouse for putting on another fantastic show. Don't get this reviewer's coolness. Bad day at the office?


A fabulous interpretation of a brilliant storyline: clever, funny, moving and beautifully acted. The imagination and 'what if' scenarios whirl in the mind days after witnessing a really good play. If this is fringe then London fringe is first class. Go see it!