Home » London Theatre Reviews » Houdini’s Greatest Escape | Devonshire Park Theatre | Review

Houdini’s Greatest Escape | Devonshire Park Theatre | Review

Houdini’s Greatest Escape is billed as “a thrilling theatrical adventure that combines death-defying escapology, incredible magic and uproarious comedy… a side-splitting, chaotic and enthralling theatrical experience“. Well, not quite perhaps, but it is certainly great fun for all concerned on stage – as well as being at times exhausting to watch.

Houdinis Greatest Escape Devonshire Park Theatre. Pamela Raith Photography.
Houdinis Greatest Escape Devonshire Park Theatre. Pamela Raith Photography.

It is ‘entertainment’ – which seems a more accurate description than ‘play’ – that is being toured by the small-scale company New Old Friends, formed in 2008 by Writer/Director Feargus Woods Dunlop and Creative Producer Heather Westwell. The plot, such as it is, concerns the world’s greatest entertainer, Harry Houdini (Ben Higgins), framed for murder by a gang of criminals in cahoots with the police (a superb drunken police officer played by Adam Elliott) whilst on the cusp of performing before King Edward. He is aided by his wife, Bess (Lydia Piechowiak) – but what does spiritualist medium Agatha (Kirsty Cox) have to do with the proceedings?

Using elements clearly borrowed from melodrama, pantomime and music hall, the four protagonists enthusiastically bash their way through the story – though I must confess that I did get ‘lost’ in what seemed an interminably long dialogue scene near the denouement! The piece is at its best when it is at its silliest; in the more serious moments, it flags, especially as there are interminable stretches where the actors are working hard to find any humour in Dunlop’s script.

The most successful scene occurs in Act Two when Piechowiak is swimming and nearly drowning in the sea, with the old-fashioned yet effective trick of a blue sheet being shaken to represent the waves. She has a true understanding of subtle physical comedy. Higgins is suitably blustering as Houdini, even if his accent is suspect. Elliott plays many roles as does Cox, and both must spend more time off-stage changing complete costumes than they do onstage! Elliott especially is very amusing in his various soliloquies, in one of which he plays four people complete with costume changes, and Cox does something unbelievable with an elephant’s trunk, even if her voice is at times more ‘shouty’ than projected!

The set (Caitlin Abbott) and costumes (Connie Watson) are imaginative as is the lighting (George Seal) and music/sound (Guy Hughes and Fred Riding) even if the volume is at times too high so that dialogue is difficult to hear.

All in all, it was an unusual, undemanding and enjoyable evening enhanced by some excellent escapology effects by Magic Consultant Peter Firman. It is a great shame that there were not more of these! Houdini’s Greatest Escape is touring until the end of June.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Don’t miss this laugh-out-loud adventure that will have you on the edge of your seat at death defying escapes, gasping as you witness incredible feats of magic and laughing out loud at some of the funniest (and let’s be honest weirdest) characters you’ll see on stage this year, as New Old Friends pull of their greatest stunt yet in Houdini’s Greatest Escape.

Harry Houdini is the world’s greatest entertainer.

Just as his death-defying escapology stunts have him, and his wife Bess, on the cusp of world-wide fame he is framed for murder by a gang of criminals in cahoots with the chief of police.

Can Harry & Bess escape the plot and clear their names?

And just how is their rival, Agatha, The Superstar Spiritualist medium, involved?

Fri 29 Mar 2024 – Sat 30 Mar 2024

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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