Matt Wingett reviews Paul Daniels at The King’s Theatre, Southsea, 22nd February 2012.
Paul Daniels was, when I was a lad, something of a hero of mine.
I liked his funny patter, I liked his smooth magic, and of course, when I was an adolescent I loved seeing his beautiful assistant “the lovely Debbie MacGee” getting tied up in scanty clothing, only to mysteriously emerge without explanation in another part of the room.
So when it came to seeing Paul at the King’s Theatre Southsea, I couldn’t resist.
The fact was though, that I went along with some doubts. Would he still have the magic? And what had happened to him in the intervening years? Somehow, he had crashed out of public life – suffering a humiliating series of vicious attacks from a British media intent on knocking down anyone who got too popular. Stories had circulated of his arrogance, and there was a continual dig at the fact that he wore a wig, which supposedly showed he was vain. It was petty, and it was stupid – but somehow after the Press did their worst, he sort of withered away.
The question was: could he still cut the mustard – and then make it disappear?
Making a definite virtue of his hairpiece in the name of his new show “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” was cheeky and funny, but also strangely telling, considering how this ridiculous brouhaha about a wig seemed to have overshadowed this top performer’s reputation in the 80s.
With that “hang the journalists” attitude implied in the show’s name, I have to say that the first half of the show did look like Paul was on the back foot. The audience was disappointingly scanty for one of the top performers of the 1980s, with perhaps a 100 people in the massive King’s Theatre. This certainly didn’t help the ambience.
Paul himself seemed subdued, and started off reiterating the point that he never really cared about his wig in the way the papers had implied – he came on sporting one, in order to make fun of it. It was a strange opening. To me, he seemed to be fighting an old fight that was long gone, and his continued barbs at the Press throughout the show implied that he’d been “got at” more than his “It was never important to me” implied.
The first half sputtered along unevenly. He did a nice levitation routine, and disappeared some handkerchiefs – but really it was all rather pedestrian. The guest appearance by Kev Orkian, an Armenian illegal immigrant who was a genius on the piano was spirited – but he had to work hard to get this small audience to respond. Which, actually, he did.
There were moments where Paul’s personality shone through. His kindness to Jen and her little boy Cas in the audience was really endearing, and he managed to win the audience over. Nevertheless, by the end of the first half, I was approached by one guy who said that he was disappointed thus far.
The second half, though, was a very different matter. Paul’s magical effects increased and there was a definite reigniting of the old magic. His quips with the audience were on the money, and very funny, and the comedy added an extra twist all the way.
Then something extraordinary happened. Paul took it to a level in which – half way between supposedly messing up tricks, he appeared to hypnotise two volunteers from the audience, with no explanation and no induction.
It is possible that they were stooges, but I like to think they weren’t. They were very believable and one, being a street cleaner and the other an employee in Game in Pompey, it should be pretty easy to verify.
The effects built one on another, with signed playing cards appearing from nowhere, a lovely running gag about a £20 note, and a series of befuddling, funny tricks that really got everyone thinking.
Did he hypnotise, or didn’t he? How did he get that note hidden away?
If the measure of a magician is in the way that people continue to ask questions after the show, then I would say that Paul still has the old magic. I am scratching my head even as I write! It was good to see his kindly, funny show of the old school.
It wasn’t just nostalgia. Yes, this is a great show to see!