Even the most hardened sceptic will struggle not to fall under the spell of Suhani Shah. First of all, she has the air of someone who, if crossed, will step on you with her sky-high stilettos, while breaking into your mind to steal your bank PIN.
She’s slightly terrifying, and her audience loves it. Having worked the magic circuit since the age of seven, Shah handles the crowd at Underbelly with all the deft charm and winking authority of a seasoned professional, for whom nothing throws them off. A rowdy audience member is laughingly – but firmly – put in their place. Overeager participants, too excited to follow directions properly, are guided along with almost familial exasperation. You’re in safe hands, she suggests. You can trust me. The illusion is cast before you even realise it’s begun.
That’s not to say that Spellbound is a slick production: far from it. Her box of tricks consists of a few white boards, a box of cards, and a little ball of chapati dough. Most of the time, it’s just her on stage, describing in detail an audience member’s treasured memory, or drawing out a grandmother’s name and birthday. On stage, Shah’s mix of mentalist acts with personal testimonial don’t always flow, but even these bumps seemingly add to the show’s verisimilitude. To say more about what happens on stage would be to ruin the magic of Spellbound, but needless to say, the audible gasps and trills of disbelieving laughter from the audience would make anyone want to believe.