Review – Pete Firman, Trickster, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 6th November 2014

TricksterI love magic. Deep down in my heart I know it’s not real, and that what Pete Firman was doing on that stage last night was simply being a Trickster (as the title of the show confirms), but wouldn’t it be great if it was genuine? If he was somehow an innocent conduit for things beyond our ken, who discovered that he had this gift to astound and surprise, but didn’t know how he was able to make these things happen? I want the world to be a place where magic truly exists. Mrs Chrisparkle, realist to her fingertips, looks on magic as a sub-genre of End of the Pier shows, or as just one element of a variety night on a cruise ship. How I managed to slip two tickets under her radar to see Mr Firman’s show, I’ve no idea. Years of practice I guess.

Actually, it was an easy no-brainer. We had seen Mr Firman before, as a guest in the most recent Burlesque Show at the Royal. Not just guest, he was top of the bill, and thoroughly excellent too. I’d expected his Trickster show to be part variety/revue and part magic, but no, it was just Mr Firman, his props, his ingenuity and his rapport with the audience that sustained the whole evening. There is a touch of the Eric Morecambe about him – you can catch it when he adopts that cheesy, toothy grin when he’s putting a brave face on something that isn’t quite quality; you can hear it in his vocal tones when being stagily mock-pompous about his skills. He is a naturally very funny and likeable guy, and, considering I normally quake at the thought of being picked on by a comic, if he’d invited me up on stage to help with a trick I’d have felt relaxed and at ease. He didn’t though, despite our being in Row C of the stalls. Swine.

Pete FThere was, however, lots of crowd participation throughout the course of the evening – I’d estimate that one in two of his tricks involved at least some element of an audience member getting up on stage with him or his coming down into the stalls to talk to people. That sense of involvement really helped the bond between audience and performer, making us one big happy family. Despite its not being a variety show, there is nevertheless a huge amount of variety within his act. Big scale, small scale; up close with a camera; mind reading, and then transferring the same thought to another person; even a trick outside the theatre (with which the whole the audience takes part), and another that took place over 25 years ago. For me though he had two particular corkers, the one that led into the interval and the one at the end. I could go into details about the tricks he performed but that would only spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it yet, and I wouldn’t do that to you, gentle reader, that wouldn’t be fair. So I’m going to be deliberately vague about exactly what happened.

Pete FirmanYou can sit there for hours and wonder, how did he do that? For the most part, “the way it’s done” is simply unguessable. Occasionally you think that if you’d somehow recorded it, and could play it back a few times, you’d be able to see the sleight of hand, the hidden prop, the way something appeared from off-stage. But that would ruin it, wouldn’t it? For the mind reading tricks, there has to be some form of mental suggestion technique involved, and we think we recognised a trigger action; not that that in any way explains exactly how the tricks were done. The “end of part one” trick involved Mr Firman getting a member of the audience to think of a number and then his guessing it, by means of a few pertinent questions and some elaborate statistics. It’s a delightful tour de force! I have a number in my head that I would always think of under such circumstances. It was the number of my locker at school, it would be the number of the box I would choose on Deal or No Deal if ever I was to appear on it (I won’t). It wasn’t the same number that our audience member chose. So if it had been me thinking of a number for Mr Firman to guess, I would have chosen that one, without question; and I just don’t see how the trick could succeed if it had been my number…But I guess that’s magic.

Pete FirmanSimilarly, that final trick left me having to collect my jaw from the floor. Unless the audience is full of stooges – and I don’t think that for a moment this is a magical version of One Man Two Guvnors – there’s only one possible way that trick could have been done; but I’m blowed if I can imagine how he physically managed to do it. If I wasn’t already returning to the Royal and Derngate this evening for another show, I’d be very tempted to see Mr Firman do the show again at the Corby Cube tonight just to firm up in my brain what I actually saw last night. It would be fascinating to observe what’s different between the performances, and even more so to see what isn’t.

A thoroughly enjoyable night’s entertainment that wowed even the cynical Mrs C and left me gobsmacked with mystery. If you love a bit of magic, he’s your man! Go see for yourself.

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