Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

"Skilfully suspenseful and darkly delightful": Nightmare Magic

Nightmare Magic by David Alnwick nestles itself somewhere between a one-man play, a magic show and piece of well-imagined storytelling. Paul Szabo reviews the horror-inspired event. 

21 January 2023 at
A person wraps a bandage around their eyes on a dark stage

Nightmare Magic

Whilst settling into my seat at Sheffield’s Lantern Theatre, I noticed a general feeling of unease amongst the audience as they anticipated the commencement of Nightmare Magic, a show that nestles itself somewhere between a one-man play, a magic show and piece of well-imagined storytelling. The set itself was simple – black curtains, a black chair, a string of Polaroid photos with anonymous faces staring out towards the audience, a teddy bear that had clearly met an unfortunate end and a small wooden box containing a multitude of mystical objects.

With so little on set, it fell to magician and storyteller David Alnwick to hold the attention throughout the show’s duration. Using a combination of narratives, Alnwick carefully weaves together a string of stories that carry various themes from one tale to the next. Alnwick skilfully cranks up the suspense and intrigue as he delves deeper into the darker side of magic.

Nightmare Magic is a collection of increasingly impressive tricks from mind reading and sleight of hand to a toe-curling incident with a piece of cotton (of which I shall say no more), and whilst it is billed as a ghost story, those expecting a one-man version of “The Woman In Black” should expect something more akin to an exploration of the ceremonial summoning of spirits than a story-based narrative.

Whilst the show is essentially a collection of magic tricks, it is the tying together of the set pieces with tales of mystical manuscripts, ritualistic practices and spirit-conjuring beliefs that brings together the performance.

Alnwick is a charismatic performer and is confident in terms of his delivery, performance and persona, leading you to never really know whether some of his stalls, pauses and place losses are genuine stage nerves or carefully plotted deceit and distraction – and it is that blurring of what may or may not be real that helps to draw in the audience into the concept on offer.

A dark stage with a teddy bear, an empty chair and a washing line with photographs

Nightmare Magic

I, for one, love to be hoodwinked and Alnwick does just that.

There is plenty of involvement with the audience throughout the show, which worked well in the confines of the intimate venue, and Alnwick is a talented magician and able to adapt to what is happening on stage. When one of the tricks didn’t quite go as planned, it was handled in such a quick-witted and funny way that it all felt like part of the act. Amongst a slew of tricks, a couple of the reveals felt a little rushed, which slightly diminished the impressiveness of what Alnwick had achieved, but overall, this is a relatively minor quibble.

Carefully crafted, skilfully suspenseful and darkly delightful, Nightmare Magic was a show that I very much enjoyed and one that clearly and lovingly pays homage to its horror genre influences.

David Alnwick returns to his home town of Sheffield on the 30 June and 1 July at Lantern Theatre with The Mystery of Dracula, so if you missed Nightmare Magic and would like a night of atmospheric theatre, tickets are on sale now.

More Stage

Jessica Fostekew “I’m a chaos lady”

Comedian Jessica Fostekew talks to Now Then ahead of her Leadmill gig about why "storytelling is one of the most powerful things we've got".

More Stage