This is the third time in barely two years that I have seen Marc Salem, and I'm still not past the phase of gaping in wonder. Salem, who would have been called a mentalist in days of variety, is astounding.
Where the likes of Derren Brown inflate their feats with build-up and bombast, Salem appears onstage with a self-deprecating "It's only me", and gives an impression of casualness... which, of course, paradoxically adds to the impact of what he does. Short, bald and bearded, he resembles a dapper but cuddly comedy uncle with his grey three-piece suit and playfully sardonic New York Jewish-style patter.
He refutes all claims of "mind-reading", stating that what he reads are rather "non-verbal cues" given by his audience assistants: "Up to 80% of the information we give out," he explains, "isn't what we say, but how we say it." He has a standing £100,000 bounty to anyone who can prove he uses stooges or apparatus of any kind. Like the best magicians, he also explains some of his feats: when determining which of five punters made which drawing whilst insisting they all answer "No" to his question, he points out to us the little giveaways in the body language of each. And when he occasionally misses, he admits it and explains his misreading.
Then, after an hour or so of "warming up", he lets fly with an amazing climax that makes you forget all his disavowals and believe he can see people's thoughts. Blindfolded with coins, surgical tape and bandana, he bursts forth with a torrent of identifications, of punters' personal possessions and their unspoken memories of trips abroad. He seems to go too fast to be taking any hints from folk's responses, bouncing remarks into all areas of the theatre with incredible specificity. One's jaw gets sore from repeatedly hitting the floor.
I used to belong to a Spiritualist church, and prided myself that I could spot when a "demonstrator" was fishing for clues; but some of what I saw there seemed impossible to explain away. Yet Salem does more than I ever witnessed in a church, more rapidly and casually, maintaining all the while that "Everything I do can be done by any ten-year-old, with 30 years of practice." So, "Shattered my religious beliefs – Financial Times"... how's that for a publicity quote?
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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