Penn & Teller, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Thursday 22 July 2010
"Lie, cheat, swindle, rip off, that's what we do!" Comedy-magic pairing Penn & Teller may offer illusions, but they are not under any about what they do.
The Las Vegas-residing showmen, last in the UK in 1994, want their audience to leave asking why they do what they do, rather than how. This is unlikely to happen after you have seen the dainty, Chaplin-esque, Teller cut the shadow of a flower causing the flower itself to cede petals. Nor is it the first thing to come to mind when you see the ursine (or "Orsine", if you used Orson Welles as a comparative measure of stature and vocal depth) Teller avoid injury through over-zealous use of a nail gun.
The "why" is easy to answer; it's because both performer and punter enjoy it. Their show may not have the bludgeoning awe of a Derren Brown show, but in its stead runs a warmth generated by Penn's quips and Teller's slight, silent, clowning. "Give me a moment to make your hair look really bitchin'" says Teller, settling a female member of the audience who has volunteered to be levitated. And Teller bemuses another female volunteer (women, it seems, being deemed the fairer sex for illusory purposes) by turning water into coinage with a nonchalant and workmanlike aplomb.
The duo could, however, have indulged themselves in a big finish rather than a cosy fireside chat about fire-eating, which was one of a few damp squibs of the evening. Fire was duly eaten, but more show-stopping routines had preceded this, including a not-to-be-spoiled one where Teller made an unexpected "appearing act".
True magic inside the Hammersmith Apollo would, of course, have seen the queues for the toilet and the bar shorten forever, but no one needed to see miracles tonight to believe that they had been entertained. The only "why" question that was in my mind as I left was: "Why have they been away so long?"
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