Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
On 9th May 1911, world-renowned magician The Great Lafayette took to the stage of Edinburgh’s Empire Theatre. After a mind-boggling trick that astonished the audience as a lion transformed into the great magician himself before their very eyes, one of the many lamps caught fire to the elaborate set and the entire stage was engulfed in flames within minutes. Eleven performers died in the blaze, including The Great Lafayette. As the highest-paid performer of his time with tickets sometimes selling up to ten years in advance, his death shocked the world and his funeral procession through Edinburgh attracted record crowds.
One hundred years on, we move from one of history’s most iconic magicians to one of the most successful and famous equivalents of today, Paul Daniels. Appearing for one night only in the same theatre where Lafayette died – now Festival Theatre – the show is the climax of an entire day of events in commemoration of The Great Lafayette.
Daniels’ style is, one can assume, much less grand than The Great Lafayette’s, but this only adds to his down-to-earth charm. There are a few blunders which sadly go a long way into giving away the whole secret of certain tricks, but with Daniels’ quick comedy it still makes the show thoroughly entertaining. From a woman who appears inside a doll’s house as if from nowhere to another who manages to survive metal sticks being thrust through the box she’s in, the tricks are undoubtedly puzzling. However, very few of them are new, so that unique buzz of impossible confusion upon seeing a new trick remains absent throughout most of the show, resulting in a sometimes seemingly apathetic audience.
But it’s the man himself who brings the tricks to life, and the highlight of the show comes in the second half when both Daniels and the audience are more relaxed. Although sometimes hard to see from the distance of such a large theatre, it is the smaller tricks that really grab the audience’s attention. A £5 note that gets torn in two with one half magically reappearing inside a walnut inside an egg inside a lemon has the audience amazed, whilst the most hilarious trick is when two audience members jump erratically from their seemingly normal seats, only to be incapable of leaving them a few moments later.
With the addition of some classic magic of doves and white rabbits from award-winning Scott Penrose, this is a hilarious show with some genuinely mind-blowing tricks and prodigious skill, none of which would be complete without the assistance of the dazzling Debbie McGee. But it is of course Daniels who steals the show, and it’s no wonder that he is as successful as he is as his illusions and humour still manage to get the whole sell-out audience laughing in amazement – from young children to pensioners. More than thirty years since his first TV appearance, that’s surely an achievement to rival The Great Lafayette.