Happy Medium is, indeed, a thoroughly happy show. Starting with the upbeat musical mash-ups which welcome us into the theatre, and continuing into the wilfully-overblown build-up to Peter Antoniou’s appearance on stage, the impression is of cheerful camaraderie matched by gentle self-parody. And that relaxed feel is important, because Antoniou will soon reveal our secrets: things about ourselves which only we could know, written down at the beginning on folded scraps of paper, and displayed throughout the show for everyone to observe in a seemingly tamper-proof goldfish bowl.
On the night I attended, the energy and atmosphere created by that opening didn’t quite last the full hour. That was mainly because of some oddball interventions from a few of his audience “volunteers”, and you can’t blame Antoniou for those – he did a fine job of improvising a way through the more off-piste moments, and it highlights his show’s key strength, that the audience are an unpredictable and essential component of his routine. Having your mind read by Antoniou is a pleasant, gently befuddling experience, and his kind-hearted demeanour rubs off on the whole crowd. Even if you don’t usually enjoy being pulled into the action, there’s really nothing to worry about here.
If you believe that “psychic mediums” really can read your mind then, well, you’d better stop reading now. But if you think that Peter Antoniou is a clever stage magician with an entertaining shtick, then you’ll find lots in his show to admire and enjoy. Part of it’s clearly good old-fashioned trickery – and no, I didn’t manage to figure out how that part of it was done – but he also has the capacity to read an audience, leading us into revealing things about ourselves while convincing us that he knew them all along. It’s magnificent to watch, and a delight to see this notorious charlatan skill turned to entertainment rather than mendacity.
But my criticism of Happy Medium is that it’s basically just one trick, repeated over and over again for the better part of an hour. It’s a good trick, and Antoniou finds something new to extract from it each time, but I found myself yearning for a little more variety after the third or fourth spin round. One brief detour – onto a story involving Trivial Pursuit cards – deserved to be more of a feature, and another couple of diversions like that might have helped to keep the interest levels up. A little more drama wouldn’t go amiss either, particularly around the rolling of dice and the dealing out of modern-day tarot cards.
Ultimately though, this show’s as much about comedy as it is about conjuring, and it’s Antoniou’s quirky persona which makes it the success that it is. A loveable but purposefully-awkward figure, he doesn’t obviously play for laughs – yet he still consistently achieves them. All in all, this is a heart-warming and sometimes-bamboozling act which leaves you with plenty to be happy about.