Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Review: Mind Over Patter at Classic

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One of Chris Cox's routines is telling what card was picked out of a pack.
One of Chris Cox's routines is telling what card was picked out of a pack.

And what do you for a job? asked Chris Cox of one of the six whom he had dragged up on stage for the grand finale.

His target hesitated, looking too embarrassed to admit his occupation.

"Oh, you work in porn," quipped Cox to titters from the small but rapt audience.

"No," said the bloke, "I'm reviewing the show. And I have to say, it's going well so far."

Well, it got a laugh. But just my luck. A preview show to the forthcoming 2010 NZ International Comedy Festival, and I'm called up for audience participation service.

No, I didn't volunteer. It had something to do with sitting next to someone who caught a stuffed toy tossed into the crowd. Being down the back didn't help.

But in this case, the stage experience did help convince of Cox's peculiar genius even more.

Billing himself as "a mind reader who can't read minds", the beanpole Englishman combines stand-up, psychology, magician's diversionary techniques, motor-mouthed showmanship and technology (a video screen, laptop and Facebook), to deliver a dazzling display of non-telepathy.

Seen Lie to Me or The Mentalist on the telly? Imagine Simon Baker or Tim Roth replaced by Gareth from The Office and over-caffeinated and heavily gelled. That's Cox's stage persona, kind of.

His show is a series of demonstrations of how our instinctive responses are so predetermined he can appear to read our minds about them.

The routines cover everything from telling what card we picked out of a pack to - in my case - determine what was the slightly rude word another audience member (thanks, pal) had submitted on a piece of paper at the start of the show and was now hidden in my hand.

Which might not sound like much, but I was one of six lined up on stage, all with a secret word or a letter as well as a number. Cox got them all, and to explain more would probably ruin the fun next time.

This preview night did have its glitches. A big reveal that involved a Facebook profile didn't come off, which might have been technology rather than technique letting him down.

His local references still sounded like the result of overnight cramming (best not use Dunedin as default joke town if one can't pronounce it. And that's always been Hamilton's traditional role). And he makes exhaustive puns on his surname.

But on the plus-side his musical diversion into Beyonce's Single Ladies was near Glee-quality. And the rest of his fast-paced hour-plus was as much of a mind bender as it was a funnybone rattler.

It's a show that takes some risks in its heavy reliance on audience participation. But personally speaking, getting too close to the action had its own bonus.

Everyone else was probably left wondering "how did he do that?".

But the thought "how did he do that to me?" will still be inducing a silly grin for weeks to come.

- NZ Herald

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