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Houdini’s Great Escape | King’s Head Theatre

The term “theatre magic” is often used to describe the illusion of a new world, answering most of what is left questioned in a show, yet Houdini’s Greatest Escape takes the more literal definition. A blend of live illusions and theatrical licence creates a performance unlike anything else.


Theo Houdini (Adam Elliott) opens by addressing the audience, providing a warm welcome to his brother, Harry (Ben Higgins), who is instantly tasked with escaping a straitjacket. After setting a comedic tone and lightly introducing us to escapology, we meet Harry’s wife and performance partner, Bess (Lydia Piechowiak). However, it is not too long before they are accused of stealing from the rather threatening Ma Barker (Kirsty Cox) and have to go on the run whilst trying to prove their innocence.


The pre-show vibe is that of a magic show, with the minimalist set laying out the instruments an illusionist would need to perform their tricks, and the music completing the atmosphere. This generates the intimacy of being at the circus, but does not try too hard to force this environment on you - it still wants to be a theatre. With what is available, the set moves, folds, and transforms into whatever is needed. The first scene in the woods is notably enjoyable as it allows the actors freedom to play and disengage from the seriousness of a scene change without interrupting the pace. Caitlin Abbott’s design shows originality and provides stability for the swift progression of the story.


The entire cast does a fantastic job of finding the balance between being an illusionist and an actor, never dropping character whilst making the tricks look second nature. Pete Firman has invented a second meaning for being a triple threat, as these actors can also perform seamless magic alongside their entertaining dancing (thank you to movement director Sam Archer for that bar scene). Higgins carries a phenomenal stage presence and charisma that, having never met Harry Houdini, is convincing enough to make us believe he is a guy you wish you had the pleasure of knowing.

However, a stunning performance by his opposite, Piechowiak, means the spotlight is never stolen by one of the pair. Piechowiak’s incredible display merits true commendation and leaves you questioning which of the couple is the title character. Although, credit must go towards the tireless determination of Cox and Elliott who play a host of characters with rapid changes. Each character feels like they spent an entire rehearsal process perfecting just one, yet somehow they have countless amounts. Elliott is given the space to platform his talents as he executes an entire scene by himself yet we meet four entirely different personalities. Enhancing their delivery is Connie Watson’s costume designs, allowing individuality and flexibility to showcase a variety of characters.

Writer and Director Feargus Woods Dunlop is not trying to develop the greatest magic show or theatre play. Instead, it is a great combination of both, unapologetically removing the limitations of each of those worlds. If you love theatre and just simply want to be entertained by something different, Houdini’s Greatest Escape is the perfect show for you.

Houdini’s Greatest Escape runs at King’s Head Theatre until 30th June. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Pamela Raith


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