CABARET : Yes, he is the Great Soprendo

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The Independent Culture
Shattering Illusions King's Head, Islington Geoffrey Durham is not a man to dangle a breezeblock from his privates. Although he likes to be referred to as an "illusionist" (as distinct from the tackier label of "magician" - spangly suit, revolving bow tie, rabbits to go), his show is nevertheless light years away from the rock 'n' roll theatrics employed by the likes of wildman illusionists Penn and Teller, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and the Tokyo Shock Boys. Durham and his more masochistic contemporaries all share a love for ripping razor blades from behind their tonsils, but there the similarities end. While Jim Rose will attempt to turn his show into a gore fest, Durham will smile sweetly and tell the boys and girls not to practise this one at home.

Durham's career progression was irreversibly shaped the day he decided to abandon the razor-swallowing trick and throw in his lot with the Krankies. Chewing on a Gillette might seem infinitely preferable to sharing a dressing-room with the most appallingact in the history of children's entertainment, but it got Durham his big break. From there he went on to become the nation's favourite fat, camp, Spanish magician, appearing as the Great Soprendo every Friday tea-time on Crackerjack and eventually notching up more episodes than even Leslie Crowther.

After scaling such heights, it was always going to be a question of "whatever next" for Durham, and the programme notes for his current show answer that unfailingly, informing us that since shedding the Great Soprendo's spiv toupee and carob tan "he has branched out [my italics] into TV chat shows, quizzes and game shows".

Given these developments, it comes as quite a shock to discover just how entertaining his new show, Shattering Illusions ("one man's intrepid journey up his own sleeve") really is. After the excesses of Jim Rose et al, Durham's act comes as a minor minimalist triumph. Here is a pared-down sequence of tricks which, at times, display a quite astounding sleight of hand, stitched together with some luvvie anecdotes, a smattering of Magic Circle philosophy and a few corny gags - "I like card tricks. I also like rabbit tricks but by God they're difficult to shuffle." With lines like that it's an odds-on bet that Durham and his wife, Victoria Wood, lead entirely separate professional lives.

The illusions, at least, are faultless. You may have seen some magician on the telly rip a newspaper into shreds and then piece it together again - just like that - but until it's performed in front of your nose in a tiny back room over an Islington pub,you can't begin to appreciate the speed at which someone like Durham moves.

And as for mind games. When a man in the audience is asked to select a word at random from a dictionary containing 95,000 definitions and that word is read from his mind within 60 seconds, then you have to say, that's going some. At times, Durham likes to flirt with his audience, kidding them he's on the point of revealing some innermost secret of the magic art. "You have to understand misdirection," he explains. "If I look at something, you do too. If I look at you, you look at me. So while you're looking one way, I can be pulling the flags of all nations out of my earhole." Simple. Oh, and by the way, that word from the dictionary was up his sleeve all along.

n Shattering Illusions, King's Head, 115 Upper St, London N1 (071-226 1916) to 8 Jan

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