Reviews

Paul Daniels, From Legend to Leg End

Posted by on Nov 24, 2013 in Reviews

Paul Daniels, show tour picPaul Daniels has been a household name for as long as many of us can remember but, unlike most people in this position, he is not one for resting on his laurels. Far from just going through the motions, he is constantly updating, refining and inventing routines – and clearly still enjoys doing so. In his fourth decade of national and international stardom, his enthusiasm and respect for magic are both admirable and inspiring: this is no nostalgia tour but a state-of-the-art magic show, appreciated as much by the teenagers in the audience as by the older generations, who used to watch The Paul Daniels Magic Show on television every week for over ten years.

I saw From Legend to Leg End at The Stockport Plaza, where a few Christmases ago Paul’s son Martin gave a memorably magical rendition of Buttons in Cinderella. On Friday evening, there was some sort of incident on the M60 and the traffic on every road leading into Stockport was virtually at a standstill for several hours. Luckily for us, my party had planned to have a leisurely dinner beforehand so, although we ended up having to bolt our food, we were in our seats on time for the show. Over half the audience, however, had not had the luxury of that cushion of time and dribbled in right up to the interval. The reason I mention this is that Paul and Debbie’s handling of the situation impressed me. Where the majority of performers would probably have either ignored the empty seats or postponed raising the curtain until more had been filled, these seasoned professionals came on stage and played for time, not getting into the show proper until more people had arrived but keeping those of us who had made it thoroughly entertained while we waited.

The show is a mixture of flawlessly executed high-end magic, storytelling and jokes, with a huge amount of audience participation. It’s well paced, interspersing quick tricks and large illusions, and it’s colourful, taking the sketches of plots and filling them out into compelling pictures. Stuffing a white handkerchief into an empty box and bringing it out red, then putting it back and bringing it out shredded, for example, is clever. But produce it as evidence in a pantomime tale of ‘orrible murders and the effect is instantly many times more intriguing.

The lovely Debbie McGee is ideal as a magician’s assistant but it’s nice to see her performing a few tricks of her own now too. Of course, she and Paul have been married for decades but her name has been associated with his in magic right from the early days of the television show and, in a profession where assistants are rarely credited, this is as it should be. The fact that they are such a long-standing and devoted couple, along with Debbie being very much a presence in her own right, allows them to create the illusion of inviting the audience into their private space. The house lights were up a lot of the time and I did often feel as if we were being treated to a parlour show as Paul and Debbie’s guests.

Although there was never a moment when the entertainment level dropped, Paul wasn’t jokey throughout. He made several serious points about the nature of deception, continuing two themes he has pursued throughout his career – namely debunking con artists and those claiming to have psychic abilities – and also reminding us, in the technological era, that there is no meaning or merit in camera tricks. If what the audience is seeing on television is not what they would see if they were in front of the magician, that isn’t magic and it might as well be performed by an actor.

With their exemplary production values and relaxed style, Paul and Debbie provide an uplifting evening with a strong feel-good factor. This is billed as ‘the first farewell tour’ and I hope there will be many more.

You can find the remaining tour dates on Paul’s website.

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High Jinx Magic & Illusion Show

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in Reviews

High Jinx

Michael Jordan is a rising star in the magic firmament and definitely one to watch. He is a gifted magician with an additional repertoire of circus skills that he integrates into his routines, he is a likeable performer as well as a very professional one and he knows how to put together a show that will be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Despite having won several prestigious prizes and toured the world with his own show, Michael remains a down-to-earth Huddersfield boy. His partner, the excellent Tamsyn Sear, is equally grounded and extremely talented in her own right.

I’ve seen High Jinx perform at many conventions over the years, back when the other half of the act was Michael’s sister Siobhan and more recently with Tamsyn, and they have always been both impressive and entertaining. It’s a clever combination of age-old tricks and illusions, presented in a slick and modern way, with quirky and original ideas, creating a show that’s a bit different but still in keeping with the time-honoured traditions of magic.

Last year’s show at the Horseshoe was a great night out and this year’s is even better. It’s packed with beautifully executed illusions, more intimate cabaret magic involving audience participation, and a few unexpected scenes featuring ‘special guests’. Michael’s ability to juggle, eat fire and ride a unicycle brings an extra dimension to the already varied proceedings: there really is something for everyone.

I’m not the only one who thinks this show is well worth making the effort to see – on Trip Advisor, the High Jinx Magic & Illusion Show is rated number 1 of the 50 attractions in Blackpool, with practically every review giving it 5 stars – and I urge you to get there if you possibly can.

The Horseshoe theatre/bar is arranged in the American style, with tables around the stage. Doors open an hour before the show starts, so you can get there early and have a (reasonably substantial) snack. You can drink throughout the performance if you wish to, though there is no obligation or pressure to buy anything beyond tickets. Whether you want to consume or not, I suggest you turn up in good time because the seating is unreserved.

This season’s show runs till 3rd November. Order your bargain tickets from Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

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Now You See Me

Posted by on Jul 13, 2013 in Reviews

This, the second film about stage illusionists to come out in 2013, is much easier and more enjoyable to watch than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – although, from a magician’s point of view, not as important. As I said in my review of it (see Films about Magicians), Burt Wonderstone provides a useful commentary on the state of the magical art and makes points I was glad to see made in the public arena. The same cannot be said of Now You See Me, though during this heist caper I was able to relax in a way I couldn’t in front of the earlier film, since I was always braced for the next wave of discomfort.

Both movies portray magicians in a less than flattering light but the tone of Now You See Me is much more even and these illusionists come across as more realistic. Burt Wonderstone himself represents a common stereotype – that of the conceited, vacuous cheese – but he and his friend Anton do at least undergo some character development, which is not really true of the Four Horsemen. The revelation at the end of Now You See Me is perhaps intended to redress the balance of the unfavourable depictions of the illusionists and I suppose it succeeds.

For me, the flaw in this new film is that it lacks a hero with whom we can identify as the story unfolds. We’re invested in two opposing parties, the magicians and the police, and I sometimes found it difficult to know which side I was on. I can see why it had to be like this but it detracted from my viewing pleasure.

However, unlike Burt Wonderstone, Now You See Me is not about the magicians as people; it’s about the adventure of pulling off the sort of amazing feats that can only be carried out by top illusionists and directing them to a purpose beyond entertainment. OK, it was filmified and the magic conveyed nothing like the excitement it would have if we’d seen it live, but this wasn’t a televised magic show, it was a tale of what can be accomplished by four highly skilled illusionists. The plot may be somewhat fantastical but I didn’t think it was overcomplicated, as some reviewers have suggested. While it wasn’t always clear exactly what was going on right now, I always understood what had just happened and, as time went by, events and conversations fell into place. This is how I often feel when I’m watching magic being performed and it gave the film a nice additional layer for me.

Now You See Me is a fast-moving (mild) thriller and, if it does little to improve the image of the arrogant, nerdy illusionist or the brash, sneering mentalist, it at least raises the possibility that the strongest magicians use their powers for good.

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Morgan and West

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Reviews

Magicians Morgan and WestTime-travelling magicians Morgan and West are fast becoming stalwarts of the contemporary magic scene. As two nineteenth-century gentlemen, they purvey elegant entertainment – engagingly executed effects, laced with gentle, character-based humour. Free of insult, innuendo and every other cheap device, this act is of the David Devant school, in which it is “all done by kindness”.

Rhys Morgan and Robert West met and started performing together whilst at Oxford University in the late noughties. Since then, they have clearly worked hard to hone their well polished double act and to come up with original ideas for the presentation of their magic. Careful to avoid using anachronistic props, this innovative duo breathes new life into old plots. Each effect is both a pleasure in itself and part of the overall illusion that we are in a wealthy friend’s drawing room a hundred plus years ago.

With several different shows in their repertoire, Morgan & West are in constant demand all over Britain and have recently returned from a run at The Garden of Unearthly Delights in Adelaide, Australia. They were headlining at Steve Faulkner’s magic show in Sheffield this week and I enjoyed their act so much I’ve booked to see them again in Buxton at the end of the month.

In an era where edgy street magic still holds sway and many magicians strive to be cool, a return to the Victorian age of parlour magic may seem to run counter to the Zeitgeist. But the tide is turning and by evoking the bygone golden days of conjuring Messrs Morgan and West may well also be showing us the future of magic.

Find out more on their newfangled website:  www.morganandwest.co.uk

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Richard Leigh’s Magic Shows in London

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Reviews

Richard Leigh, creator of London magic showsRichard Leigh is inventive, perfectionist and indefatigable. The metaphorical plate-spinning act he pulls off week after week, month after month, year after year, creating magic in many different guises in many different settings all over London, is an extraordinary feat in itself – and the magic is wonderful.

To give you an idea of what some of the shows are like, I’ve reproduced here (on the new website) my reviews from a few years ago. Details have changed over time but the overall experience hasn’t: Richard Leigh’s magic shows are reliably excellent.

For the latest info and to book tickets, go to www.falseimpressions.co.uk.

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