'Stalker' review — when magic isn't mysterious, but data-mined

Read our review of Stalker off Broadway, a magic show created and performed by Swedish magicians Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung and presented by Penn and Teller.

Kyle Turner
Kyle Turner

If the sleek, suited spectacle-makers at the front of Stalker – Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung, debuting their new magic show from Sweden at New World Stages – are to be believed, then the age of surveillance, hyper-information, and obsession have stopped many people from being ready and happy to engage with magic. Stalker presents itself as the magic show in the age of Big Brother, where we are all targets: We all play detective, we can all spectate someone, and we’re all being watched.

It’s an interesting, ironic, and morbid reworking of the genre: Magic doesn't come from the mysterious energy of the universe, but from the quantifiable info collected by technologies and institutions. That premise leads to some relatively clever tricks: random strangers given a romantic mixtape with their names on it, a group of people whose personalities dictate how they will choose a chair, and, at my show, besties whose friendship takes the cake. Working on theme allows Brynolf and Ljung to update older illusions for a new age with fine effect.

But the show fails to make some of its magic tricks and audience interaction fit into its themes about how we operate in modern society. (What does spoon bending have to do with stalking?) And while Brynolf and Ljung have magic masters Penn and Teller’s seal of approval, the two don’t have much charisma on stage. There were too many circumstances in which the mentalism involved two people just staring into each other’s eyes and guessing incorrectly a few times until the (miraculously?) correct answer popped into the guesser’s head (be it the audience or one of the magician’s).

It’s a strangely icy magic show, with none of the goth vibes of a Chris Angel or the whimsy of Penn and Teller. While framing a show around the lack of privacy in the modern age is compelling, Stalker emerges as muddled, split between wanting to demystify magic and still leave audiences in awe of it.

Stalker summary

Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung build their magic set around the age of surveillance, in which everyone is being watched and everyone’s data is always being collected. It’s from this that their illusions and magic finds its inspiration. If everyone is being watched, then their minds are even easier to read.

Directed by Edward Af Sillén (Eurovision), the pair intermittently draw a direct line between the era in which they grew up in the 1980s, when Rubik's cubes were all the rage, to now, when everyone has a smartphone in their pocket.

What to expect at Stalker

The moment you walk into the theatre, the audience has the opportunity to participate. The large screen that hovers above the stage, in retro VHS aesthetic, invites people to come up to get their photo taken. This photo will eventually be placed on a corkboard that remains on the stage for the bulk of the show, complete with red yarn connecting other artifacts together like a wild conspiracy theorist’s HQ.

Brynolf and Ljung use a mix of illusion, mentalism, fancy guesswork, and sleight of hand for their tricks, with a little bit of close-up magic added for good measure.

What audiences are saying about Stalker

As of publication, Stalker has an 83% approval rating from audiences on the review aggregator Show-Score, with audiences largely calling the show a fun, unique experience.

  • “If you’re interested in the intersection of magic, technology, and privacy you should add this show to your “must see” list.” - X user @RickyRobinett
  • “This is magic like I’ve never seen before. I was in absolute HYSTERICS at the end.” - X user @meownyc
  • “Don't see it if you crave David Copperfield's grandeur, Houdini's physical daring, Penn & Teller's comic repartee, or David Blaine's jaw-dropping feats.” - Show-Score user Droop

Read more audience reviews of Stalker on Show-Score.

Who should see Stalker

  • If you’re interested in how the world of magic is evolving with the times and technologies, Stalker is worth a trip.
  • Fans of the Eurovision Song Contest will be interested to learn that Edward Af Sillén, who directs this show, also directed the 2016 Eurovision show and its parody song “Love Love Peace Peace.”
  • Fans of expert illusionists Penn and Teller will be happy to know that they have given Swedes Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung, and Stalker, their sign of approval.

Learn more about Stalker off Broadway

Peter Brynolf and Jonas Ljung's onstage presence doesn't quite match their sharp, compelling approach to magic, but Stalker is a pleasant exploration of how magic, technology, and illusion collide in the modern world.

Learn more and get Stalker tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Stalker is at New World Stages through September 1.

Photo credit: Peter Brynolf & Jonas Ljung in Stalker. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy