Fringe Festival Review: Thomas Baxter's ThoughtControl

I swore off mind games a good two years ago, during a turbo-charged serial dating phase. No guy is worth putting up with that crap, I told myself. And it's been smooth sailing since then. My shrink's extremely proud of me.

Then, yesterday, it all came crashing down.

I saw him. I was intrigued, mesmerized. I just couldn't help myself.

His name is Thomas Baxter and his show, ThoughtControl, will have you looking at mind games in a whole new light.

This sage of human psychology turns the tables in this enthralling demonstration of theatre of the mind, where the audience's inner selves are the ones performing and being observed. Although he has held the title of "magic consultant" for countless organizations and productions-- Hollywood blockbusters, the Discovery Channel, the Stratford Festival, to name a few--hocus pocus and hypnosis this is not. Baxter truly understands human nature. In ThoughtControl, he wields his wisdom to perform seemingly magical illusions when, in reality, it's merely understanding and predicting how individuals think and react.

Gifted in the discipline of psychological illusion, Baxter is a master of his craft. His ability to tap into another level of human consciousness is astounding. As a performer, the paternal Baxter is charming, as he sheds light on the concepts behind what he does. It's not mind reading, he explains, it's predicting, suggesting and (gulp!) controlling human behaviour.

"I've had to learn an entirely new set of very esoteric and arcane skills to do the things that I do in ThoughtControl", Baxter has said of this show. "Psychology, reverse psychology, verbal and non-verbal manipulation, even things as diverse as NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] and Japanese Game Theory now play a part in how I manage to find out what people are thinking."

Absorbing and stimulating, ThoughtControl will leave you thinking. As for creepy? Sure, it may be slightly so but, to be fair, the human psyche isn't exactly all sunshine and lollipops.

I won't give away any details of his feats, for that would ruin the surprise, but I urge you to go. Just remember to pick up your jaw when exiting the theatre.

Hell, I wish I'd found out about Thomas Baxter sooner. With him on my side, perhaps I wouldn't have had all those wasted nights lamenting mind game mini-dramas. "'I have to pick up denture cream for my grandma on Saturday night so, uhhh, I can't do dinner' is a lie, Panthea, a lie!"

Then again, I guess it doesn't take a master of psychology to figure out that one. Harumph.

Rating: ****

Venue 1 - St. Vladimir's Theatre (620 Spadina, at Harbord)

Remaining showtimes:
Thursday, July 13, 1:45pm
Saturday, July 15, 7:00pm

The Toronto Fringe Festival features local, national and international companies at 28 venues. Tickets are $10 or less ($2 surcharge on advance tickets) and discount passes are available. Advance tickets sold up to three hours prior to showtime by phone, online or in person at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick, at Bloor). At least half of all tickets for each performance go on sale one hour before showtime at the venue. Festival runs until July 16. Fringe Hotline: 416-966-1062.

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