Likeable lad Barry unfortunately misses a trick
Ian O'Doherty on television
" In fact, the man's tricks are probably the least interesting thing about him."
KEITH BARRY - BRAIN HACKER.
One of the great ironies of so called illusionists is that they all seem to operate under the delusion that they are interesting. They seldom are, of course -- side show carnies for a modern era, they operate in an arena more hokum than hocus pocus.
Waterford entertainer Keith Barry prefers the term 'mentalist' to illusionist, and as someone who is more Derren Brown than David Blaine, he at least manages to achieve the one trick that seems beyond most of those who make a living pretending they have the 'gift' -- he is actually likeable.
In fact, the man's tricks are probably the least interesting thing about him -- after all, his own Wikipedia page lists him as an: "Irish mentalist, hypnotist, magician" and, rather incongruously, "activist for the elderly".
Between a near career-ending car crash and his well publicised, and well placed fury, at the violent burglary of an elderly relative Barry is, alongside Brown, by far the most interesting figure working an already overcrowded field. It's ironic that Brain Hacker should be appearing on TV3, given the righteous shellacking that channel received a few years ago when they were embroiled in one of those tedious micro scandals involving stupid people, sorry, gullibletypes, paying two euros a minute to talk to a TV medium. But Barry has long been an active proponent of rationalism in his shtick, finding genuine wonder in the psychological marvels which can be offered by a competent cold reader.
Invoking rationalism when working as a mentalist is, obviously, a rather thin rope to be walking. But in this new show, he has reverted back to side show, crowd-pleasing guff which is harmless enough, if you like that sort of thing. Shot in a new TV3 studio that has been made, accidentally I'm sure, to look rather like the old library bar in Lillie's (or so I'm informed, nightclubs wouldn't exactly be this column's area of expertise) this is his live show brought to the small screen. But as illusionists, sorry, mentalists have found to their cost before him, television simply doesn't work with matters mentalist, the live audience is too close to the non-action and the TV audience is too far away.
In fact, as Dynamo has discovered to his cost -- and the cost of his ratings -- Barry operates in a field of magically diminishing returns. There are only so many times people can go 'ooooh' and 'ahhh' at the latest demonstration of sleight of hand or mind before, well, getting bored.
There was little in Brain Hacker that we haven't seen before -- card tricks, intuition and assorted jiggery pokery involved the popular performer pulling the wool over the eyes of a willing audience. From guessing the serial number of one young woman's 20 quid note to bamboozling fashion photogrpapher Barry McCall -- much to the dutifully amazed reaction of the crowd -- to some well placed cold reading, this was nothing we haven't seen before. Unlike a lot of entertainers who claim to have cracked America, Barry is the real deal abroad and it is easy to see why -- he's a smooth and accomplished performer with more than proficient stage craft but this show, part performance, part interview, was neither one thing nor the other, and the presence of a guy in a tracksuit with some sharp knives throwing shapes and stabbing a watermelon for no apparent reason just looked like something more normally associated with your local chipper at closing time. That Barry is immensely skilled at what he does is not in doubt, but it's hard to escape the impression that the least impressive string to his bow are the relatively mundane tricks he pulled off...
In fact, this viewer was left frustrated at the fact that a man who has proved to be an such an arch debunker of irrational nonsense in the past -- for example, when he took a leaf out of James Randi's book and offered a TV3 psychic 50 grand if he could prove he was actually psychic -- hasn't made the leap from being a super efficient card sharp into basing a show around exploring the genuinely fascinating psychological insights that provide such genuine bland tricks. There is an undoubtedly riveting programme in Barry.
But this ain't it.