Slightly cooler than Paul Daniels
Pete Firman at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Tuesday, October 19
MAGICIAN Pete Firman is everything a British conjurer should be. Slightly dishevelled in appearance and intentionally under-polished in performance, Firman is the anti-Blane, taking away the gloss, smoke and mirrors, replacing them with often groan-inducing jokes, and yet still managing to pull off stunts that can take the audience’s breath away, despite their understated presentation.
Although Firman kicked off the night with a nail in the face and a skewer through the arm, the show wasn’t a gore fest. His tricks were often well-known ones, oldies-but-goodies that the audience may have seen on television or remembered from their childhood - but when had most of them last seem them performed, live and well-crafted, in front of their eyes?
In a way, revisiting unshowy tricks such as passing a handkerchief through the microphone stand was more effective viewed through adult eyes. Without a child’s genuine belief in magic which makes anything possible, you know that you are being fooled, but however many times Firman carries out the simple move, you can’t figure out how it’s done.
Like so many magicians, Firman is an academic of his art, and along with his patter he threw in some interesting facts about the history of performance, such as the skills of the sideshow geeks who would submit themselves to various humiliations for the entertainment of their audiences. Just to prove that for all the Tommy Cooper-esque slip-ups he really knows his craft, he rounded off his performance by catching a paintball pellet in his mouth - after a few tales of how some of those who had died performing similar tricks had met their maker.
Firman is described as a comedy magician, but the two crafts have gone hand-in-hand since time immemorial, and Firman’s style is not always so far from those magicians considered to be more traditionally “straight” in their performance. In small parts he even reminded me of a younger, cooler and slightly better looking Paul Daniels. Which is not to belittle Firman in any way, but instead raises the possibility that old-style magicians such as Daniels ought to be respected for their legacy rather than laughed at for all the wrong reasons.
- First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 28 2010