It takes a performer who is brave, foolish or supremely confident to name his show after one of the world’s most influential illusionists. You set the benchmark extremely high for yourself as a magician when you invoke the name of Harry Houdini.
Yet Hans Klok’s show, which has more spectacle than Vision Express, probably has more in common with David Copperfield or Siegfried And Roy than history’s greatest escapologist.
The Dutch magician, whose magnificent blonde locks alone could command a stage, presides over tightly choreographed, themed set pieces that whisk the audience from a nightmarish circus to a pirate camp via the 17th century as Klok and his Divas Of Magic – who have to resort to wearing particularly teeny outfits to avoid overheating under the stage lighting – make the impossible possible.
They disappear from boxes, reappear, switch places, dodge knives and do a nifty line in levitation. These are illusions most fans of magic will have seen before – there is even one trick that has been gracing the West End nightly for the last 25 years – but Klok delivers them with a speedy tempo and Vegas-style showmanship that keeps the production ticking along.
Klok and his Zoolander-esque expressions are impressive, but we know his tricks are just that. His guest acts, though, make jaws drop faster than my spirits when David Blaine announces a new stunt.
There should be a trick in the superhuman routines performed by acrobats Leosvel and Diosmani, and You and Me, the two duos’ bodies cling to poles and each other in ways that should not be possible without the aid of hidden supports. Yet these are absolutely, 100% real. Slack wire artist Zhang Fan winds up the levels of astonishment higher still. Each time he reaches what looks like the limit of possibility, he adds another layer of difficulty and intrigue. In a technological age, they each provide 10 minutes of wonderment at what can be achieved with the body alone.
But what of Houdini? Klok, who has an endearing style of amiable banter, offers a little history of magic that reveals his obvious love for his skill, and finishes both halves with feats of mortal danger; his version of Houdini’s famous Underwater Escape and Klok’s own invention, the Jaws of Death, which sees the magician straight-jacketed and suspended upside-down inside a giant steel mantrap.
The escape, like the rest of the show, is a feat of over-the-top performance and entertainment. I can’t tell you if he escapes; that would ruin the show…
… but The Houdini Experience is playing at the Peacock theatre until 25 March.