Arts online Review

Review: Playing The Hand by Darren and Jerryl

Taking control of the cards life deals you.

I’ve often thought that magic is all smoke and mirrors, and the day I gained the knowledge that almost all magic can be explained logically, via misdirection and trick props, it became far too easy to be cynical, and think that magic is for kids.

But that’s precisely what separates a good magic show from others, where even when the audience innately knows this, a skilled magician is able to use his wit, charisma and personality to convince a crowd to suspend their disbelief, and for the duration of the show, allow themselves to be changed by ‘magic’.

In Playing the Hand, audience members get not one, but two magicians combining their talents to do this, as young illusionist duo and best friends Darren & Jerryl go online to take audience members into the comfort of their living room. Combining humour and an overarching narrative, their virtual magic show is all about opening our mind’s eye to the realm of possibility, inviting us to shift our perceptions, and use that as a means to convince us of our power to change reality itself.

As an online experience, the show spoofs the medium from the get go, with grand music more befitting of a big theatre. Director Dwayne Lau comes online, and introduces the house rules, before the show begins proper. Darren and Jerryl appear onscreen, and set us up for the night ahead.

The duo quickly establish their storyline, speaking about the supposed lack of choices we have in life, thanks to the cards we’ve been dealt. Life then becomes a gamble, and it’s up to us to choose how we play those cards, whether we play or fold. As Singaporeans, we tend to play it safe, choosing to get by without raising the stakes and live a risk-averse life. The result is getting stuck in the vicious cycle of the rat race, from school life into adulthood. All we have is the short, precious weekend to look forward to before returning to the slog, and facing the pressures of society once again.

With this in mind however, the duo want to break the cycle, and prove to us that we are capable of change, starting with some close up magic, executed perfectly. Shifting the camera angle, Darren shares about one of his favourite books – John Green’s Paper Towns, and begins telling his own story with playing cards as an aid. With bad grades, he felt a gap year was needed, taking the break he needed before coming back stronger. Even with rejection, he tried again and again, with hope and optimism in his heart, and learnt to enjoy the ride.

Fast forward to their first gig together as a duo, and they share how that led to their success today, going from just bar shows, to even hospitals, ‘creating’ snowflakes for patients. Recreating this experience, audience members got a chance to be a part of the magic, and this trick certainly left us with a smile on our face and wonder in our hearts, almost like allowing us to see through the eyes of a child believing in Santa on Christmas again.

But the spotlight doesn’t belong to Darren alone, as Jerryl takes over and tells his story. With it being August, it was appropriate that he recalled a time they were waiting for NDP rehearsals to start, and doing tricks to pass the time. From guessing the number of fingers to how many M&Ms there were, it felt almost like he really was telepathic. Jerryl also shows off how he can make things materialise – as he makes his favourite bowl of mee pok, for example, appear in the most unexpected of locations.

This then, is the heart of Playing the Hand – storytelling, with a side of magic, rather than vice versa. Even the audience gets in on the storytelling action, as the duo coax us into sharing our personal anecdotes, perfect strangers loosened up and willing to be real with each other with all these memories etched in our minds.

But could it be that all of this was fated to begin with? In a grand reveal, the duo share how the world is our oyster, and takes us on a tour of the world. Donning glittery tops for their show stopping final act, they perform the ultimate squeeze, Vegas style, and leave us impressed.

As the show comes to an end, they share one last story, about how tiring and nerve-wracking the entire process has been, with so many changes and adaptations they’ve had to do, before this show finally came through. From their last virtual show to this one, Darren and Jerryl have clearly done their research, observing all that’s going on around them, and improving on their presentation while staying true to their brand. How will we be playing our hand? The possibilities are endless, and it’s completely up to us to live life to the fullest, unapologetically and boldly.

Playing The Hand runs online from 6th to 15th August 2021. Tickets available from The Esplanade

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