We are invited from the bar into the intimate venue at Thelema’s opening night at a secret theatre in Dublin’s city centre. With a such a small audience packed within the theatre walls, there is an overwhelming sense that we are all sort of ‘in on something’. The entire scenario is shrouded in mystery and the fact that we haven’t seen Shane Gillen himself at all yet only serves to add to the intrigue. A single chair sits on the stage. The lights go down. The venue is plunged into candlelight. Gillen is introduced to the stage, the spotlight comes on, we are off…
Shane Gillen opens in a light-hearted, offbeat manner. Though he’s wearing a microphone and his voice fills the room, he speaks to the audience members as though we are his friends; chatty, fun and mischievous in many ways. We are treated to an early collusion themed as a more dangerous version of ‘Russian Roulette’ game, where – Gillen explains – in his version he will use 5 loaded chambers and one empty. Indeed, the collusion continues as the first volunteer takes to the stage to take part in Gillen’s high whisk game (I say ‘whisk’ on purpose here, but do go to the show to find out why!). The tone is seemingly set, we are in for a fun, unusual and whimsical evening apparently.
Throughout the first half, audience members have been given instructions to add up random numbers of their choosing, verify them, think of childhood memories, hold on to envelopes and packages – all with the unspoken promise that all will make sense by night’s end. I say ‘make sense’ loosely, little did I know that by night’s end I would lose sleep trying to ‘make sense’ of what had just occurred.
As we approach the interval, Gillen treats us to a brilliant feat of mind reading that leaves me suitably captivated and a little intimidated as I watch him tell a random member of the audience that he is thinking of his first day of school, as well as accurately tell him the name of the song that he is humming in his head. We want more, but Gillen holds back for now. We meander through an effect involving audience members and their own personal objects, where the objects and owner’s names become mixed up (by another randomly chosen volunteer) in a combination dictated by the audience’s randomly chosen numbers, yet somehow every object ends up back with their owner’s names. Gillen had his hands off the entire thing. Confused? So was I. But the baffling evil genius was yet to be unleashed.
We are promised that if there was ever any question that we wanted answered accurately; then Gillen would attempt to do so in the second half. The audience is told to write their questions down and seal them up, leaving only our initials on the outside of the sealed envelopes, which then are placed inside a glass bowl on stage and remain in sight for the show’s entirety. When Gillen returns in the second half, the show seems to have lost its whimsical aperture, replaced instead now by a performer with a tone of very deliberate and calculated intentions, which climactically manifest themselves in what can only be described as the most enigmatic incomprehensible feat of mind reading or ‘magic’ that I have ever given witness too.
Leave your rabbits and hats at home here, a script loosely based around the little-known religion of Thelema offers allows for this performer to do as he pleases within notions of free-will, choice, influence and willpower – all of which are things that it seems Shane Gillen has ultimate control over regardless.
We watch as he begins telling audience members to merely think of memories in their lives, he starts picking up that one man had been in some sort of car accident when he was a child. Gillen then goes on to describe the types of vehicles involved and then correct himself to describe – accurately – the memory that the man was having (falling from a car off of a forklift, would you believe). This carry on goes on conclusively throughout the second act with Gillen spitting back so much information about a group of perfect strangers. A truly chilling and awe-inspiring ending to an incredible hour and a half of ‘mentalism’.
Thelema comes highly recommended. For tickets, email your name to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Thelema’ in the Subject bar. Tickets are €12 and the event takes place in a secret theatre in Dublin city centre (details of which you will receive in a return email from the above email address)