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Houdini’s Greatest Escape

Lichfield Garrick


Mention the name Houdini and most of us conjure up an image of a man dangling from a wire in straight jacket or emerging from underwater having wriggled free from handcuffs. His daring escapades continue to give him proper star status but other than escapology, little is known about the man beyond the chains and shackles of his trade.

Born in Budapest, Houdini (real name Erik Weisz), arrived in America at the age of four - one of seven children. After working as a magician, a chance meeting with a vaudeville impresario steered him into the world of escape acts and the rest, as they say, is history. It was also around this time that he met his wife, Bess Rahner - a woman he adored and worked alongside for the rest of his life.

There was, of course, a lot more going on behind the scenes and great credit to New Old Friends Theatre Company for delving deeper into such a fascinating character.

The story is told here with fast paced and slapstick humour - precisely what you would expect from a company that brought us the hugely popular Crimes series of comedies - but it also brings to life other facets of the man’s life that we are perhaps less familiar with.

Aside from his acting career and a love of aviation, one of Houdini’s biggest missions was to debunk the world of mediums and spiritualism that were hugely popular at the time. He believed that psychics were taking advantage of the bereaved and he used his magic to expose frauds. It was a mission he doggedly pursued alongside his daredevil day job.

Whilst the play highlights the anti-spiritualist elements as well as throwing in some ‘hold your breath’ moments of magic and illusion, it also incorporates an imagined storyline that puts our hero and wife in the frame for a murder. Can this man, famed for escaping from so many situations, now escape from a death sentence? That, of course, would be telling.

The style is in keeping with the company’s previous outings. Multi characters (taken on beautifully by Kirsty Cox and Adam Elliott), physical comedy, fast paced dialogue, clever props and scenery and a ‘ripping yarn’ quality that gives a heightened, pythonesque flavour to the proceedings. Silly and off the wall - in a good way.

Ben Higgins captures the showmanship and passion of the man himself whilst Lydia Piechowiak arms his loyal wife, Bess, with just the right of amount of feisty bravado.

Mirth and magic combined into two hours of pure, escapist theatre….in every sense.

Tom Roberts


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