The premise for MoMentum sounds wacky at first – but it turns out to be an inspiring, uplifting, and gently intriguing show. Styling himself "the MoMentalist", Phil Ainsworth combines two genres not often seen together: motivational speaking, and the branch of stage magic known as mentalism. So, as he explains at the outset, he's on a mission to help us overcome the sticking-points in our lives… but he'll be reading our minds as well.
If you doubt the truth of the mind-reading, then of course I wouldn't quarrel with you; but if you're sceptical about the motivational part, I'm here to say you're wrong. This isn't a man who bounds onto the stage and yells that you're awesome. Instead, Ainsworth shares some simple, verifiable techniques – including a couple you can test out there and then – to consciously change your way of looking at a problem, or subtly shift your perspective on the world.
A lot of magic tricks boil down to psychology too, so it's not surprising that the motivation and the mentalism sit well together. If you've been to mind-reading shows before, some of the material will be familiar to you, but Ainsworth deftly works the tricks into his over-arching theme – so that each performs a double duty and feels both unexpected and new. One card trick, for example, is linked to an assessment of personality types, making a point about the way we perceive ourselves while also delivering a perfectly impressive mind-reading routine.
A show like this can stand or fall on your rapport with the performer, so it's lucky that Ainsworth seems such a nice man to spend your lunch-hour with. Jettisoning the air of mystique adopted by many mentalists, he's engaging and often endearing, keeping the tone light and the atmosphere friendly. He hits just the right note with his audience "volunteers" – guiding them without ever hectoring them – and he's unafraid to acknowledge that he, too, sometimes has need of the techniques he espouses. I don't think it's breaking any confidences to say there's a kernel of real-life darkness at the heart of this show, and it's genuinely touching that Ainsworth has seen something wrong with the world and set out to change what he can.
The finale is a well-worked sign-off – intricate, without being over-complicated – and it draws the threads of the show together into a simple life-affirming message to take away. All in all then, you should see MoMentum, because you'll come away from it feeling happy. And if you happen to find that sentence curiously persuasive… well, you'll learn the secret behind that trick, too.