Ever been the victim of pickpocketing? I nearly was once when on holiday in Naples. Two guys working together used a system whereby one spat on my left-hand shoulder while the other went for my right-hand trouser pocket. I was lucky as one of my friends saw what was going on and gave the alarm. Now you may be wondering where I am going with these holiday reminiscences but, last night, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, I saw pickpocketing elevated to an art form when I went along to a performance of “James Freedman, Man of Steal”
Going in to the Chocolate Factory, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The stage was simply furnished with a very well dressed tailor’s dummy on one side, a small open safe on a trolley on the other and a backdrop consisting of rows upon rows of binary script running across it. When James came on to the stage he looked – and I hope he will forgive me for saying this – like just an ordinary chap you would see anywhere, probably good to have a pint with but not a threat to anyone. But, I was wrong, this guy turned out to be an absolute Superman with his hands – and luckily for us, he uses his power for good. Not only that but he was a really engaging speaker giving us a bit of his personal story and how he got into this profession as well as a fascinating taste of the history of pickpocketing and how it has evolved over the course of time as crooks have changed their targets and modus operandi.
I bet that has really whetted your appetite to know more about the show, but thats about all I’m going to tell you about the performance itself. Partly because – just like in “The Mousetrap” – James asked us to keep the secret, and also because you probably wouldn’t believe the things I described actually happened. All I will say is that James is not only an absolute master manticulator (that’s Latin for pickpocket) and an expert in his field – advisor on one of my favourite shows (Hustle) – but also a consummate entertainer, who for about an hour kept the audience – quite a few of whom got involved with the show – engaged, enthralled and mesmerised throughout.
By the end, I knew a lot more about pickpocketing, the importance of an enterprising Italian Waiter in one of the 21st century’s most endemic forms of crime and had learned some really valuable lessons about protecting myself from pickpockets, scammers and other such reprobates. Most importantly I, like everyone else in the enraptured audience learned one big, and I do mean big, lesson whose relevance is world-wide – Always protect your PIN!
“James Freedman, Man of Steal” is a truly fantastic performance piece that informs, educates and entertains and you can’t say fairer than that.
Review by Terry Eastham
Man of Steal
Persuader, showman, thief… James Freedman will steal a whole lot more than you might expect and one member of the audience will lose the most valuable thing possible…
Freedman, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest pickpocket entertainers, brings his new show Man of Steal to the Menier Chocolate Factory for six nights only, playing across Sunday and Monday evenings for three weeks from 12 April.
Funny and fast-fingered, Freedman exposes how the bad guys really work, the show reflecting a life-time spent studying hustlers, street criminals and con-men. Fuelled at an early age by being victim to muggers and further inspired by watching child pickpockets on the streets of Paris, he began a lifelong study of criminology and the psychology of thieves. In his words, “It was then I decided to become a pickpocket myself – only an honest one. I want to educate people to help them avoid becoming victims.”
Hailed a genius in his field by Derren Brown, Freedman is the only man to have picked the pockets of The Mayor of London, The Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England. With his hands having been insured for £1m, his expertise is courted by the entertainment industry with his consulting on the film of Les Misérables, and Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, the BBC’s Hustle and as The Real Hustle’s ‘pickpocket expert’.
Tuesday 14th April 2015