REVIEW: Paul Daniels & Debbie McGee, Chris Cross @ Prima Ristorante, Newcastle (18.06.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Before we start, I should hold my hands up to something – it’s not often I take advantage of freebies, I ordinarily prefer to give the overworked NARC. scribes the pick of the goodies. But when someone asks you if you want a three course meal in a nice restaurant with the added bonus of a performance by one of your childhood heroes (whether or not said performance fits with your target audience and your carefully agonised over ‘ethics’), you just say yes.

So, now my conscience is clear, we can begin. Chris Cross – compere, escapologist, magician and comedian – is a congenial and welcoming host, stopping at everyone’s table to check they’re enjoying their food (we did: antipasti, melt-in-your mouth steak, cheesecake – all good). Thankfully he didn’t pop any of his bones out of their sockets until we’d finished eating, and his audience involvement and comedic timing were spot on. Sat slightly too far away from the stage to see the close-up magic of the card tricks was a little frustrating, but that’s pretty much the only criticism I could muster.

when oranges and lemons started appearing under Daniels’ quick-moving hands, a sense of childlike wonder took over

The first half of Paul Daniels’ act was a Q&A session from the audience, although Chris – an obvious die-hard fan – steered a lot of the conversation. A born raconteur, Daniels spoke of his time in the army and at times the “bring back national service” and some slightly dodgy foreign accents sent alarm bells ringing – was my childhood hero about to turn into a xenophobic old codger? Thankfully, it never went quite that far (and I’m positive he’d be horrified by such a thought), but the combination of being amongst the youngest people in the room (which doesn’t happen often these days) and the slightly ribald ‘end of the pier’ atmosphere did make for a surreal experience.

Further tales of the trials of modern day magic, the problems of performing on television, and tips for his favourite magicians, with up and comers and stalwarts alike getting a nod, were interesting and humorous. Some tales were a little drawn out – it was magic we were here to see, after all, not chat – but rather than irritating, his demeanour and brassy ‘Boro accent kept the audience enthralled.

As for the magic – I think we only saw maybe three tricks, and poor Debbie McGee was severely underused, only popping on stage to do a hokey ‘mind reading’ trick as Daniels worked the room – the lack of props aside from playing cards and a few odds and ends didn’t detract from the act, merely exemplified his abilities. I had a Paul Daniels Magic Set when I was a kid, and I never managed to conquer the ball-under-the-cup routine; when oranges and lemons started appearing under Daniels’ quick-moving hands, a sense of childlike wonder took over, and didn’t depart until the walk home. Continually telling stories and picking on members of the audience, light-hearted banter and some genuinely funny moments made his act fly past. As for how he got a twenty pound note inside a walnut, inside an egg, inside a lemon? Well, that’s magic.

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