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Penn & Teller: Live. UK Tour 2017. Apollo Hammersmith.

June 28, 2017

(Seen at the performance on 25th June 2017).

Around 30 years ago, I remember seeing an American magic act on, I think, Ben Elton’s “Friday Night Live.” To a rock beat, two anarchists did a routine with one commentating as another appeared in various holes cut in a cuboid rocket-like structure. Interesting… but then they did it again… this time with clear cubes and a constant refrain of “Trap Door!” Those guys were Penn and Teller, and I was hooked instantly.

A fan for all these years, my bucket-list included seeing the duo live – and last Sunday night that box was finally ticked.

Popular enough to sell out 4 nights in Glasgow and Manchester, plus these 6 at the biggest theatre in London, the audience they draw really is of all ages. Forming a warm bond with the audience to open the show, a terrific youngster of 8 was called to the stage for a P&T version of “Rabbit from a Hat.” Said rabbit ultimately fared far better than one dealt with by an unusually chatty – though inaudible – Teller later, it must be said.

Over two hours of pure fun followed, as the pair presented illusions recent and classic from their repertoire, interspersed with stories and amusing digs at targets like the British Magic Circle and the American “Saturday Night Live” audience. The latter protested in droves at their use of a snake in the old “cut rope” trick (we get that one, ‘carnival geek’ style), but apparently cared not one whit about Teller’s drowning the following week.

A lesson in how not to choose an online password involved five members of the audience and not only confounded the rest of us, but also a magician’s assistant I happened to chat to a few days later. She admitted knowing how it was done… usually… but nothing matched that from my description this time…

And that’s the glory of them. The Heston Blumenthals of magic, endlessly innovative and always unique – even as their 8 year old selves doing the old “cup and ball” routine (and that isn’t a euphemism).

Come the interval (during which Teller likes to walk his cow, according to the video screens), the audience was unusually reluctant to leave. Normally, as the lights go up, there is a stampede for the bar / toilets or both (he gets the drinks, she makes room for them, is my observation). That night, the audience instead remained seated, each grasping two halves of a playing card, comparing them with their neighbours, those in front, and those behind.

Having been asked to choose 4 cards and a cup from a bin in the foyer before the show, Penn had just ended the half by having us all shuffling the cards face down, tearing them in two, exchanging one half of one card with a neighbour, shuffling again, putting one half in a pocket, shuffling and discarding random numbers of card halves into a cup until only a single half was left in a hand. Reach into your pocket for the other half…. remember, the magicians had been on the stage at all times, miles from your seat… and… everybody turn over their cards… Yes! The pieces match! 3300 people simultaneously gasping, “What The F…?!!!” Mathematical, probably, but we swapped card halves, remember…

If their big trick after the interval didn’t go entirely according to plan (mobile phone tricks seem doomed) the second half was as much a pleasure, with the beautiful “shadow cut flower” and less aesthetic but thrilling “Teller Trap” finale. You will never make a sandwich in the same way again.

Most of all, though, and the bucket-list tick of bucket-list ticks, was finally seeing “Miser’s Dream” performed live. For more years than I remember, I’ve loved this sensitive, silent illusion, with an ending that confirms the value of life truly is the triumph of living gold over cold dead silver. My all-time equal favourite illusion (Paul Daniel’s “Magic Kettle” being the other), and without peer.

I think that this is the heart of my hero-worship of this pair. That philosophical humanity underscores all that they do, and they simply love to be a part of making life just that bit more wonderful and inexplicable for all. The sheer humility, perhaps their greatest trade mark, shines through in their live show.

From the very, very reasonably priced souvenirs (most “tours” try and make as much as they can; here, for example, a programme was a West-End matching £8, but with better content) through the unforgettable evening of hard-work and originality – for which they publically thank their whole team – and ending with an open-ended “meet and greet” time in front of the theatre after the show for anyone wishing to stay, Penn and Teller are not just magicians at the very pinnacle of their profession, but people choosing to live at very pinnacle of life.

I’m hoping they return to the UK soon, and the line for tickets starts here.

 

Pure magic, unmissable.
5 glittering stars.

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