I’ve never been hypnotised before. It’s an experience I’ll tell you that. It’s here I have to confess I didn’t do any research before heading into Declassified. That’s partly because I like to review stuff with a blank slate but also because I was late and almost missed it. Suffice to say I wasn’t much in the frame of mind to be seeing a hypnotist/illusionist type gig, flustered and out of breath as I was.
It’s a testament then, to Aaron Calvert’s charm and talent that the atmosphere he’s able to create was more than enough to settle this disorganised idiot in. It’s also a testament to how people need to shut the hell up in shows. Honestly, if you’re reading this and are the sort of person that natters away in the back row loud enough for half the auditorium to hear, let me assure you that whatever you have to say is not nearly as important as you think it is.
But when it’s not being shattered by twats, the tone of Declassified is fantastic and I think integral to the experience. What Calvert does is nothing much that we haven’t Derren Brown and the like do dozens of times before, but he’s a performer all of his own. Ironically, I think this is something he really has in common with Brown, that ability to craft a unique atmosphere that really draws you into the weird world they inhabit. Calvert’s own stab at that is by using FBI declassified files as a sort of framing device, lending this X Files sort of vibe that’s mysterious and has an air of credibility.
Calvert himself weaves few illusions about what he’s doing, he’s remarkably upfront in saying that it’s basically all just tricks and the willing suspension of disbelief. I should at this point clarify that I wasn’t properly hypnotised, not up on the stag or anything. That probably would have made this awkward to review. But Calvert pulls a neat trick. There’s a point in the show where he essentially hypnotises the whole audience and selects those who respond best to join him on stage. And Christ if it doesn’t actually work. He made us feel as if we were rooted to the spot, unable to retake our seats and it was wholly bizarre, my legs felt tight and stiff for hours after the show. I genuinely had a lot of trouble sitting, like my legs just would not obey me. What I learned is that hypnosis is absolutely a willing thing, something you need to want to take part in. Calvert is clever in his use of flattery and reassurance to induce that feeling of receptibility in the audience. In the end it felt dishonest to stand when I found that, with some effort, my legs would do what I told them. Even if you’re not willing to go up on stage I’d say Declassified is worth it just for this experience alone, especially if you’ve never been hypnotised before.
For those that did join Calvert on stage, well I wouldn’t want to spoil their fates, but it’s a genuinely awesome thing to witness, no matter how much sleight of hand is involved.
Declassified was marred in my viewing by a few technical hiccups that seemed to throw Calvert off his game a little, but he pushed on admirably and all the tricks and illusions went off pretty much perfectly. A great show that I can only adequately describe as just downright cool.
★★★★ (and a half)