Houdini the play follows the lives of Harry and Theo Houdini as they attempt to make a name for themselves in the world of magic and illusion. Starting shortly before Harry meets his wife, Bess, the audience is taken on a whistle stop tour of Harry’s rise to the top whilst Theo is left to struggle on in his shadow. Written by Stuart Brennan, who plays Theo in the show, the story seems to focus less on Houdini and more on the hardships of his younger brother leaving us wanting a little more of the great tricks and showmanship to balance out the rather angst filled speeches.
Jamie Nicholls as Houdini stood out as a very accomplished actor and showman, really embodying the star as his focus on work takes over and eventually takes its toll. The moment he is brought back to the reality of his failing marriage is by far the best dramatic sequence in the show and I’d happily watch Jamie again elsewhere if he can deliver those kind of performances. Unfortunately the show itself seemed dialogue heavy and slightly off pace. Evanna Lynch as Bess had little to work with early in the script, with barely a conversation between her character and Harry as they begin their romance. Even a single happy scene between the two would have been useful to contrast the later decline, perhaps their wedding or even just a walk through the snow which Bess is said to have loved. The scenes in which Evanna could really shine were the emotion packed scramble to save Harry from the water tank shortly before the interval and the tearful speech given ten years after his death.
Overall, the greatest persona in show-business did, at times, seem like the only real person in a show of caricatures but each actor had at least one moment to shine. With a little work on the pacing and a bit more balance in the content the show has potential, but for now as Harry always says, it needs a little more perfecting.