Are you ready, London?
Last night, sat in the Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre, I was nervous for two reasons. One, because I was on a third date, and two – because I adore magic. When a show is titled ‘The Houdini Experience’ you are, naturally, filled with high expectations. Houdini is still considered the greatest.
Nothing about the theatre particularly screamed ‘magic show’ but I suppose that is where the magic really begins and it represented, instantly, the element of surprise. Hans Klok, from Holland, is the magician leading this show. Entering the venue, we see cheesy posters everywhere, his flowing hair and bleached white teeth daring you to smile. When opening the program, his biography states, “I hope to you take you to another world, a fantasy world, where the impossible becomes possible and where we can all dream just for a while. I would like to dream with you.” Is this guy for real??
My date and I are giggling, praying that he is as dramatic on stage as he is in the programme.
He exceeded our expectations.
The house lights go down and, parallel to his name, we hear ticking and images of clocks are projected on the stage. Immediately you feel that this is no ordinary magic show. The heavy music kicks in and fast-paced illusions happen before your eyes in a vivacious sea of lights, fire, glitter and crazily-clad dancers. Hans got his wish, I literally felt transported. After a fifteen minute opening, Hans finally takes the microphone and graces us with an introduction. He is, surprisingly, extremely sweet. Flicking his electric blonde hair back, the curtain comes down behind him and the house lights come up. He begins by telling us a bit about himself and his work and then swiftly moves on to the history of Houdini. It was fascinating to hear how much Houdini’s life meant to Mr Klok, and that honouring the master of magic’s legacy was his life’s work.
Klok is accompanied by an ensemble of dancers, men and women who act as assistants and who entertain us through a scene change. The three main dancers are known as the ‘Divas of Magic’ and, from the look on my date’s face, are there to make the male members of the audience sit up in their chairs. Also known as Natalie Hoop, Peggy Sloote and Josephine Wormall, these scantily-clad woman are the subject of most of the magician’s illusions, making them disappear and often duplicating them as he desires.
Now, the beautiful visionaries are not just for the men. We quickly discover this as the ‘Guest Stars’ perform their acts. Ladies, this one’s for us. The first act is a Mr Zhang Fan, a slack wire artist. At the tender age of 22, Zhang has a core strength that enables him to do much more than just balance on wire. His tricks in mid air left the audience astounded and he barely trembled as we burst into spontaneous applause.
Next up, we meet Leosvel and Diosmani, the absolute hunks of the show. They are a Cuban acrobat duo who are dressed in shorts and a lot of muscle. Aside from being lovely to look at, these two gorgeous artists had the audience on the edge of their seats whilst defying gravity. I can’t say much more than that, these two are worth the ticket price.
The most beautiful act in the show was ‘Duo You and Me’, an acrobatic duo performed by Igor Gavva and Luliia Palii. An elegant and stunning dance, beginning with a blanket and the stars, the two lift each other in ways that looks physically impossible. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how strong this female acrobat is, her flexibility inspiring the audience to applaud yet again.
The final Guest Star we meet is the ‘M.G. Team’ a trio roller-skating act from Italy. Daniel, his sister Chiara and her daughter Shannon show us how it’s really done with just a round table and three sets of skates. You won’t be disappointed, just a bit dizzy.
These stars feature throughout the show between Hans’ segments of madness. A theme that runs with the way Hans works, is storytelling. Before most tricks, he will tell a story behind it, taking you with him. It works incredibly well, the most successful one being the ‘Light Bulb Miracle’, but I’ll let you find out about that for yourself.
In addition to the storytelling, there is a costumed theme. For the second half of the first act, we are on a ship and our players are the pirates. The tricks and illusions are as dramatic as ever, and our leading man is the captain of the ship, waxed chest and all.
The opening of Act II introduces us to an Elizabethan theme, with gigantic costumes and even bigger tricks. It swiftly moves forward to the 1930s, where the girls wear less and Hans gets more handsy. The dancers in this section act as street merchants, performing classic magic tricks that Hans visits individually, outdoing each of them.
After even more magic, Hans enters the stage without his radio microphone and is given a hand-held. He reminds us all of one of the most famous Houdini acts known and begins to take his shoes off. The atmosphere of laughter and sparkle quickly turns to suspense and, although we now know this man to be an extrovert, for the first time, we question his sanity.
The Houdini experience was a first for me. After writing about theatre, and the wonder of the West End, I’ve been picking my brain about how to write a piece on a show that is all about surprise. As Hans says in Act I, you are either the type of audience to sit back and enjoy the wonder of magic, or the type to sit up and wonder how the hell he does it. I am the first, so I leave you to wonder.
Review by Rebecca Birch (Twitter: @BirchR)