I have never been more disappointed in a show in my life. Be advised: the Harlequin Hypnosis Show uses false advertising.
This is supposedly a geek event. It isn’t. Billing it as “steampunk” is an appropriation of an aspect of geek culture in order to draw more outside crowds. The show itself has absolutely nothing to do with steampunk whatsoever. They vaguely mention an airship as the setting for some of the show, but it has no impact on what actually goes on. That and the costumes are the only links they make.
“Adventure” is also not true. There is no story here. Ostensibly the volunteers are meant to be a brave group of airship privateers searching for a missing girl. What actually happens is that the show focuses on trivial and embarrassing things for two hours. That is not what the audience, nor I, came to see. It’s all a complete bait-and-switch.
As well, consent in stage hypnosis is a murky thing. Though they say you can stop yourself from doing anything you really don’t want to do, they also say they make you highly suggestible, to the point of immediately and unconsciously acting on implanted suggestions or commands. By that logic, if a person is doing something under the influence of hypnosis, there’s no way for anyone in the audience to know if that person truly, actively wanted to do it.
Even if hypnosis isn’t real (though the hypnotists of course insisted it is), even if everyone on that stage was simply playing along, the scenes they were influenced by the showrunners to act out were not what they were advertised to be. Had I volunteered, I would have done so expecting to be taking part in an adventure story, not — in the hypnotists’ words — being “tortured” for the amusement of the audience.
The trivial things the volunteers did (or were made to do) were all rooted in public humiliation, which is the entire basis for the “humour” of this show. And because of that the “comedy” promise is false as well. The volunteers went through scenes of thinking they stank, finding a cat that had run into the audience, avoiding rats on the floor, rowing a sailboat and building fires. There was also a sequence at the end focusing on a few volunteers — all women — being put through a series of actions one by one.
The worst of the humiliation for me was the disturbing amount of uncalled-for sexuality — which made calling the event a “family show” rather awkward. Volunteers were told to make physical contact with each other, and in one memorable scene two of them were even told to find each other sexually attractive. At one point the lead hypnotist “hypnotized” a woman to think she’d sat on a nail. He then pretended to be a doctor — while wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at the audience — and seemed to grope her ass while “pulling the nail out.” Pantomime or not, it still crossed the line.
Public humiliation is not something I find funny. Schadenfreude does not work well here. Putting someone through pain or discomfort and telling me to laugh at it just doesn’t seem right. I find it dehumanizing, and I can’t laugh at that.
It is said hypnotism requires some amount of trust, and those at the Harlequin Hypnosis Show broke mine. I will not be attending their show again, and I cannot recommend it to anyone else.