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The Stage Review - Houdini

Despite a wealth of books, films and documentaries, this new theatre production is a welcome contribution to helping us understand what made the great Harry Houdini tick. Writer Stuart Brennan, who also plays his younger, less successful and generally little-known brother Theo, chooses to concentrate mainly on the ever straining relationship between the sibling magicians.

The pair start out as a double act but it’s not long before Theo is struggling to survive and, despite his stardom, Harry has problems, too.

Jamie Nichols, in the title role, perfectly portrays the pain and angst Harry’s success and demanding workload brings him and the strain it puts on his marriage to beautiful wife Bess, played by the enchanting Evanna Lynch, best known for playing Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films.

It’s an ambitious, large-scale production, which includes a creditable re-enactment of Houdini’s famous Metamorphosis routine, and a convincing bullet-catch, though Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture escape works less well. Surprisingly, we never see Harry in a straitjacket or heavy chains - those iconic images that he used to emphasise his amazing feats of escapology.

What we have here, though, is an insightful and entertaining glimpse into the showman’s life and tragic death. Above all, it’s a delicious piece of theatre that combines great drama with a generous helping of tricks and illusions.

By Neil Bonner

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