Arts Review SIFA 2021 Singapore

★★★★☆ Review: The Journey by Scott Silven (SIFA 2021)

Magical storytelling that bringing us closer online.

I’m a cynic at heart, and have always known that stage magic is a matter of sleight of hand, misdirection and trickery to pull off an act. And when magic is performed via a digital medium, one cannot help but suspect its ‘authenticity’ even more, given how easy it is to manipulate videos and video feeds.

But there’s something special about Scott Silven’s The Journey that makes you forget all your doubt, allow yourself to indulge in his magic, and just believe.

Playing as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), one big reason for this is the amount of effort that goes into preparing and immersing us in it, from the pre-show activities putting us in the right mindset, to the quaint, innocent room we’re introduced to when we enter the room, rife with possibility as Scott enters.

Scott introduces himself, and begins addressing us by name, revealing reveals that it is in fact, live, and is able to see all of us on the other side of the screen. The first act of the night starts simply enough, with a circle of light projected on a wall. We are each asked to imagine it is a clock, and pick a time. Scott chooses one of us, and does a quick Q&A on why we picked that particular time. This then, is our introduction to the format he’ll be adopting throughout the show – to allow us to showcase something we’ve brought or drawn, and use it as an opportunity to share more about ourselves and get to know each other.

But The Journey is far from a ‘get-to-know-you’ session, and is tied together by magic and storytelling. He impresses us early on with this, as he explains the ritualistic significance of cairns, towers of stone, before casually showing off an impressive feat of physics. All this while telling us his own story of how he returned to Scotland after years abroad, and linking it to the story of a Callie, a young boy who goes on a journey of his own to explore the Scottish moors.

This then is the crux of The Journey – the story, one that we are invited to be a part of again and again during the performance, putting a part of ourselves out there such that we become compliant and part of the magic Scott conjures. As much as we’re separated by physical distance and a screen, we feel immersed, helped by Jherek Bischoff’s emotive music, and production designer Jeff Sugg’s impressive projections of maps and landscapes around the room. Often, it feels we are all there in the room with him, with each other, and sharing in this same space and experience.

And when it comes to the actual ‘magic’? Scott proves time and again that he has the improvisational chops to make it work, charming us with his words and pulling off feats that make us want to yell at the screen and go ‘how?!’ He is likeable as a host, and his voice calm, measured, and his story, filled with such rich descriptions, transporting us to Scotland in our mind’s eye. It is all these elements that come together that make us want to believe in his magic, and that we are greater than we think, having the ability to influence what’s going on in the show itself.

By the time we get to the end of the story, we circle back to how we began the entire show – with the concept of time. Ultimately, Callie’s story stops mattering, simply a theatrical device to keep us hooked, to tie everything together for us. The true magic happens when Scott wraps up the entire experience with a particularly impressive act, where everything that’s happened over the evening comes together in a convenient conclusion, and we feel that we’ve gone on the same journey, and arrived at the same destination, inherently interconnected with each other.

I know it’s all an illusion. I know that none of this is actual ‘magic’. But throughout The Journey, I found myself constantly smiling at every step. I appreciated how Scott made the choice to involve as many different audience members as he could throughout, and how all that paid off when we became as one, strangers at first but a united audience by the end, having shared all these parts of ourselves with each other. The Journey works because it makes us feel larger than life, that we are masters of our own destiny, and is SIFA’s feel-good show of the year. Consider this cynic convinced that magic is real, and can be elevated to art beyond entertainment, if only you know how to tell a good story.

The Journey runs online from 18th to 30th May 2021 as part of the 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts. Tickets available here

The 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 14th to 30th May 2021. Tickets and full line-up available here  

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