“What I do is the truest sense of illusion,” says the magic man who calls himself a mentalist. “There are no props and there is no person in a box.”
He’s Scott Silven, a twentysomething Glasgowian in town for Toronto’s Luminato festival. His show, At the Illusionist’s Table, is an off-Broadway hit event of fine dining, upscale whisky tasting and sleight-of-mind shenanigans. The twice-nightly sittings are held at Casa Loma, the site of our dinner-hour interview. Upon our introductions, the handsome, young magician of the mind offers a broad smile and an oddly limp handshake. Something up his sleeve, perhaps.
It is a curious thing, interviewing a mentalist. Does one test their skill? Avoid their hypnotic glare? What number am I thinking of?
Resisting stunts, I decide to follow Silven’s lead and see where he takes me. Our sit-down happens at BlueBlood, an opulent steakhouse occupying what used to be the Oak, Smoking and Billiard rooms on the landmark castle’s main floor. Silven tells the waitress we’ll have our drinks after dinner, thank you, and when she asks about our taste in steaks, he looks across the table in my direction as he suggests a medium-rare striploin.
It’s like he’s reading my mind.
At another Luminato show, a glammy Irish cabaret of drag, dance and circus that is descriptively titled RIOT, a performer informs the audience that “art is about participating, not consuming.” Silven seems to support that notion. With his own show, he weaves together candle-lit storytelling and illusory savvy while seated at a table with engaged guests in a private room in the castle’s attic. Audiences are limited to 24 people, each paying $225 for a three-course dinner and à la carte bedazzling.
“I’ve done stage shows, and you can connect with audiences on a superficial level, but I want to create a happening among strangers,” says the trained hypnotist, who splits time between London and New York when he’s not on the road. “Every single person around the table for these shows is involved. It’s immersive, and they are agents in the experience.”
With that, we immerse ourselves in 18 ounces of pure cow-meat magic. As we eat and chat, the pleasant Silven doesn’t go into great detail about his act. Presumably, concentration is requested, pictures are drawn and how-did-he-do-that moments of wonder are produced. A storytelling component relates to a boyhood experience of his involving a forest, a grandfather and strong whisky.
“Mystery is important in our lives,” is all Silven says.
After an awkward pause, the bearded barkeep arrives with two makes of single-malt Scotch. I don’t care for the 12-year-old Cardhu – I mean, I like a malty touch of peat as much as the next guy, but something about its nose or palate or finish or attitude just doesn’t sit right with me.
Better is the dram of eight-year-old Lagavulin. Silven mentions its “subtle aroma of smoke,” and it really does taste like a wood fire smells. “I’m glad you picked up on that,” he says, explaining that the smoke represents a sensory memory from his youth.
Where there is smoke, there is often smoke and mirrors. Silven, however, seems genuine when he explains his craft and his show. “It’s the theatre of the mind,” he says, getting up from the table. “It’s just you as a performer, trying to connect with an audience and trying to win them over.”
Mission accomplished, in my case. By the way, the number I was thinking of was, “how much is all this going to cost, and who’s paying for it?”
Silven says the cheque has been taken care of. Paying for a journalist’s dinner: Why, that’s the oldest trick in the book.
At the Illusionist’s Table, through June 24 at Casa Loma. Information at luminatofestival.com