We arrive at BATS and make our way up to the Dome, where we’re greeted by his stage manager who welcomes us into the space and, curiously, gives us all a number. Rolston himself is manning the door when you get into the actual space, and his bejewelled forehead and dazzling nails are hard to take your eyes off of. Along with our numbers, we’re also given a list of queer organisations across Aotearoa with some information about each one, love to see it! The staging seems pretty standard for a magic show, with various tables and props that we’re eager to see the purpose of lining the stage, and a projection at the back.
The show begins with some quick housekeeping from Rolston, giving us a quick rundown of the nature of the show, and some other key information such as informing people on the nature/use of pronouns for those who might not understand them. He asks each volunteer their name/pronouns before each mind-bending trick to ensure he addresses them correctly. I’m surprised at how many folks say ‘I don’t know’ when he brings them onstage and asks them, but I’m reminded that this is still very new for some folks and I’m definitely not part of this demographic, but back to the show. Rolston begins by asking us to suspend our disbelief, try not to figure it out, and just enjoy the show how we see fit. It’s always nice to be encouraged to make noise and get excited, although I feel like the pronouns chat could have been placed in there as it sort of felt like we had two preliminary chats before the show began.
After this, Rolston launches into his story about coming to terms with his queerness. Like many queer folks, he grew up in a religious home and Leviticus 18:22 was seared into his memory, being gay was not an option. No one’s coming out story is the same, because no queer person is the same, but the fundamental fear of rejection is one that rings true for most of us. Rolston only came to terms with it when he was 25, as stated in the programme, so he spent a long time battling with himself about the very notion of being queer. As someone who was outed pretty young (and also grew up in a religious family), I never spent that time questioning who I was because everyone else was already doing it for me; but despite our stories being pretty different I still felt a deep sense of resonance with the idea of trying to suppress those feelings in a community that doesn’t accept us.
Now, onto the magic itself. Rolston gives us a brief synopsis of how he got into the magic world, citing things like FISM (the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques or the International Federation of Magic Societies) and some of the top magicians in the world as inspirations, before telling us about what he does best: mentalism. Mentalism is a form of magic that utilises psychological principles to create illusions, things like telekinesis, mind reading, and rapid mathematics etc. I won’t spoil anything - you’ll have to go see the show for that - but trust me they are awe inducing. Although he asked us not to try to figure anything out, my neurodivergent self can’t help but think about how the hell he managed to do it, and as I sit here writing this review I can safely say I’m still stumped. I mean, how does one make a table float??
Rolston’s story is heartfelt and poignant, especially when he tells about his grandparents, and he does a great job relating his story to the feats he performs to highlight milestones in his own story and the beauty of the queer community itself. I wanted to see a bit more development in the performance itself, some more moments of pause for us to reflect on the horrifying statistics or sit in our awe for a little longer. I think playing with the pacing would really help to highlight the emotional highs and lows of this journey, however the matter of fact tone he uses does work well for an audience that seems to be made up of a lot of allies who likely have a lot to learn. Rolston shines most in his audience interaction by making his volunteers very comfortable (the numbers we we’re given as we enter is how he selects random volunteers), and I wanted to see that sense of comfort from him a little bit more in the moments where he told his story, as there were times where it felt a little too matter of fact. I’d also love to see this developed for a younger audience, Rolston’s message could help a lot of queer rangatahi.
The childlike sense of wonder is still lingering, magic really does that to you, but it’s something Rolston said towards the end that stuck with me. After describing the current state of affairs in the LGBTQ+ community in 2023, he said “you are queer for a reason”. That was something 13-year-old Alia needed to hear when they were outed, and I think it’s something a lot more young queer folks could benefit from hearing.
It feels a little strange to be celebrating the beauty of our community and who we are as a TERF has been let into the country with more protection than we could ever dream of, but it goes to show that we’re not going anywhere. I hope the team keeps developing this show, we need queer joy more than ever right now and I think Rolston has the power to change a lot of minds. And for anyone who doesn’t see the show but still needs to hear it: you are queer for a reason.
The Best is Yet to Come - A Queer Magic Show closed on Saturday 25th March in The Dome at BATS.