Review: 3*** The Last Act of Harry Houdini – The Cockpit Theatre @cockpittheatre @UKTheatreNet @TheCompanyO

Tweetingit: 3* A solid one man show delving into the mind of a puzzling and often misunderstood showman. Harry Houdini wouldn’t have had it any other way.

On 31 October 1926, magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died in Detroit. Ninety three years later almost to the day, Barry Killerby performs The Last Act of Harry Houdini at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone. There was certainly an eerie atmosphere as the spotlight settled on a top hat glistening with stardust. Our story begins two weeks prior to his death in Montreal, where he is preparing for a theatre show. Aged 52 Houdini’s glory days were largely behind him and had returned to his roots in Vaudeville.

The circumstances of his life and death are analysed in a highly literate one hour monologue. The narrative works well in flashback as snap shots feature key stages in Houdini’s life. The son of a Rabbi, Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Hungary. The family immigrated to America in the late 1870s, where they struggled to find their way. Houdini’s courtship of future wife Bess is well documented; so too his rise to prominence as an escape artist and keen eye for a photo opportunity. His obsession with spiritualism was evident and frequently clashed with mediums, whom he saw as nothing more than poorly trained magicians.

Barry Killerby performs admirably in a self-written play, and delivers a sound portrayal of a supremely enigmatic individual. Whilst it’s simple enough to portray a séance, Houdini’s escapes would be more of a challenge for a sole performer on stage. Nevertheless, Killerby manages to effect a fair representation of Houdini’s most famous tricks; including the straightjacket and chains routine.

If the production has a weak spot it’s Houdini himself; younger audiences would not understand or appreciate him. The thumb generation can google but he will mean very little to them; the Edwardian equivalent to David Blaine will inevitably lose out; even though he had the charisma and presence that Blaine could only dream about. Annoyingly regular outings on film and TV cannot help Houdini’s cause. I still can’t shake the image of the film version starring Tony Curtis, which saw fit to re-write his death in a cheap Hollywood melodrama.

That said, Barry Killerby proves his versatility as an actor; and can longer be called an unsung hero and jobbing actor. For the man who played Mr Blobby, Harry Houdini is a massive leap in range that he manages with relative ease. Yes, there are numerous gags in that statement (did he have any trouble escaping that pink outfit – oh come on you’ve got to let me have one?!); but he has undoubtedly proved a point.

Written and Performed by: Barry Killerby

Director: Ishwar Maharaj

Producer: Company O Theatre

Choreographer: Joan Golden

Booking information can be found here

Box Office: 020 7258 2925

Booking Until: 2 November 2019

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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