It’s not every day you find yourself leaning forward on your seat due to the sheer suspense of a show. Looking across, the tension has caught everybody in the same way: people are straining their necks to get the best view. The spectacle: one of Mr Houdini’s most famous escapes, re-enacted on stage by the squealing, Shloer-chugging Mr Swallow (Nick Mohammed). Having tackled Dracula in 2014, this spotlight-stealing actor/director is back with a show which blends comedy and some well-placed magic tricks superbly.
It seems unfair to call Houdini a show: it’s a spectacle.
Mohammed quickly establishes the dynamic between Swallow and his two assistants, Goldsworth (David Elms) and Jonathan (Kieran Hodgson) within the first scene, allowing for plenty of power plays that occur throughout the show. It’s a setup which suits the actors capabilities brilliantly: Goldsworth’s need to keep the show from flying off the railroads under Swallow’s control, Jonathan hopelessly watching from the middle of it all. This is best executed in a scene where Houdini and his wife visit the doctors, a simple premise which unravels to hysterical levels as the conceit of the play is lost to Swallow’s preference for physical safety over death-defying stunts. Here’s where the show so delightfully messes with its format: on paper we see a half-formed thing as Swallow drops his character continuously, in practise we see a full showcase of Nick Mohammed’s ability to sing, dance, and tell anecdotes which nobody asked for. It’s a delightfully silly, all-over-the-place but tightly constructed show.
This silliness is balanced out by songs and magic along the way, oftentimes combined. A couple of the songs do feel quite long paced out against the swiftness of some of the scenes in the performance, but it’s hardly a bad thing as we get to enjoy the performers’ harmonies for a little while longer. With a catchy tune or two thrown in alongside some impressive little tricks (Penn and Teller wouldn’t be fooled but nonetheless they’re quickly executed and with perfect comic timing), it seems unfair to call Houdini a show: it’s a spectacle.