An Audience with Paul Daniels

May 2002

Reviewed by Matthew Blackwell

Paul Daniels is undoubtedly a talented performer; his technical ability is hard to dispute. I must even admit that when I went to see 'An Audience with Paul Daniels', I smirked at several of the jokes (which is about as close as I allow myself to laughter in a public venue).

(There's a 'but' coming...)

I recall, prior to my first seeing Paul perform live, being fantastically excited about the forthcoming event. (I expect my parents found this hugely annoying). But on the drive down to Brighton this time I failed to feel the same anticipant buzz. I hadn't even dressed up. I'm sure I put a proper shirt on when I saw him before.

Maybe I'm harder to impress these days. Maybe I've overdosed on magic over the years. Maybe now I'm just a little too grown up for my own good - though I think friends might argue that this option sounds unlikely.

Perhaps I exaggerate the case a little; there was a little tingle just before Paul came on. I think it was the cheesy pseudo-TV-magic music they played that did it. I don't know who wrote it but it was uncannily reminiscent of the opening credits from The Paul Daniels' Magic Show.

I realised the reason for my lack of enthusiasm though, shortly after he appeared on stage (and it wasn't that there was less smoke this time round, and an absence of Debbie McGee):

Now that I'm a little older; now that I understand people better, Paul Daniels is just a little bit too smug for my liking.

There was the music; Daniels entered; we duly clapped; he indicated we should stop; we ceased the applause; he gestured we should start again; (perhaps stupidly) we recommenced our enthusiastic noise; eventually he let us stop again: 'I love a well trained audience' he said. You see? Smug.

The show took two parts: the first a question and answer session interspersed with an occasional trick, and the latter half purely magic - highlights from the original 'It's Magic' stage show.

I think a good few people had geared themselves up for the question and answer session. There wasn't a lot of waiting. But then - this was Brighton; people can be quite unreserved in Brighton on a Friday night.

Topics covered included his appearance on TV with Louis Theroux and the show which followed his trying to make it in America as the unknown 'Paul Eldani'. He also mentioned Debbie and the Ballet Imaginairé (no mention though of the swan on a string illusion so prominent in Louis' show).

There were amusing anecdotes on his association with Michael Crawford and the illusions in Lloyd-Webber's 'Phantom of the Opera'. He also touched (at the request of a perhaps rather uninspired audience member) on the TV exposures fronted by Valentino. Additionally he was asked whether magic was 'real'. Slightly alarmingly the poser of this question seemed to be quite convinced that it was.

One questioner asked why Paul was selling his magic collection; suggesting it was perhaps because he was short of money; but alas, no-one asked Paul how he felt about his lack of popularity leading to an increase in sales of Heineken.

Surely the show's comedy highlight must have been when one participant enquired as to whether Debbie got a lot of action from Paul's magic wand. We laughed.

And then there was some questioning on the likes of David Blaine and Derren Brown. Well, perhaps questioning isn't quite the right word. Hearty debate might describe it better. It was certainly very amusing to watch from the comfort of our seats as Paul struggled to reproduce the 'propless' mind-reading of Derren for the bold, insistent, and rather wonderfully naive and argumentative spectator posing the questions. A few members of the audience were obviously a little protective of Paul ('Why don't you go and see Derren Brown then?') but eventually the dissenter was quelled (he not having been satisfied by Paul's first attempts) by Mr Daniels' alluding to Derren's pre-camera work and by showing a nice handling of Terri Rogers' Master Key book test (that's an educated guess).

I'm not sure that I really ought to have enjoyed this part of the show quite so much as I did. But it's easy to understand: for a good few minutes Paul's smugness was under fierce attack and we almost saw the human in him. (Almost).

And the second half: It's Paul's usual stuff - his 'signature tricks'. If you're old enough to have been there when he used to be on TV you'll know them already: The classic routine with the chop cup - surely the most finely honed of Paul's magical performances. And then into the marathon segment that is Paul's handling of the electric chairs - once described as 'a comedy of errors with borrowed money' (by John Fisher - the one time producer of 'The Paul Daniels' Magic Show').

I can't honestly say that I can recall the money part of it from the first time I saw the show and I think I've worked out why. Eventually, as time passes, memory becomes selective and the fluff is forgotten. I'd remembered the chairs but forgotten the money transposition. I can see why; as I watched the show this time I couldn't help but think that the second half was a little drawn out. I was reminded of the old TV series, towards its demise, when Paul would stretch a show with a little too much chat, a little too much singing and fluff; and not enough magic.

Actually, it's interesting, Paul does put down television a lot. It seems in telling us that we should all go to the theatre more and watch less TV he's perhaps slightly hypocritical in forgetting that he was on TV for a good while himself.

He has a point though; live theatre has to be better than TV; it's a social event and you get to use all of your senses, not just two. The Komedia in Brighton is a very nice venue. Intimate, centrally located, and with a good restaurant and a bar that, in addition to the usual beverages and bags of nuts, sells lollipops and tubes of sweets.

But what would you usually associate with the presence of such confectionery?

In the theatre (admittedly small - maybe two hundred) there was an almost complete absence of children. Possibly six or seven in the entire audience. Now maybe Brighton doesn't have a enormous child population but I'm sure there are more than seven. The huge majority of the audience, I'd guess, were the same people that used to sit in front of the TV when the show was on in the eighties, at a time when they probably should have been doing their homework. Daniels' fans are slowly becoming an endangered species, which is perhaps a shame - but it makes you wonder why...

OK, so as he points out he doesn't do a cookery show and he's not making over a house, but it's not like we don't have good magic on TV lately. Derren Brown for example. And Derren, well... he's not so very smug is he...

"Why don't you go and see him then?" Oh, well you see, Derren's not touring until the Autumn.

© Matthew Blackwell, May 2002