Performing in a decaying space far beneath Brighton’s Town Hall, magician Luke Robson proves a surprisingly dapper presence. And his show is well-turned-out too: a traditional series of tricks, performed (relatively) close-up at a table, it’s a little short on showmanship but offers plenty of friendly charm.
The tricks themselves are largely standard ones and, if you’ve seen a few magic shows before now, you’ll already know how the majority of them are going to end. But they are, in the main, well-executed, and a couple of them are given a nice storytelling twist: one segment about contacting the dead has a genuinely touching quality. At the start, Robson warms up the audience with a nicely-worked escape routine, which combines friendly banter with some unexpected physical comedy.
One lengthy card routine is rather complicated to follow, and a segment with a bar of soap – which takes a long time to build towards a single visual punchline – perhaps doesn’t pull enough weight. But there’s a well-conceived story involving voodoo, and my favourite passage of all was based on the oldest trick in the book: the cup-and-ball game, which brought the whole audience together in an unwinnable battle of observation versus chicanery.
The tricks are interspersed with a historical narrative, loosely built around the topic of escape. We hear about Houdini’s early life as a sideshow act, and of a Victorian-era escapologist who broke out of prison multiple times – but in the end was trapped by the hangman’s noose. The theme links nicely to the atmospheric setting in the subterranean Old Police Cells, but it could usefully be developed a little more. Some of the connections to the tricks – like using handkerchiefs to represent knotted bedsheets – are clever, but other connections are tenuous at best, and the narrative itself lacks some cohesion.
On the day I attended Robson’s act felt a little stiff – particularly in the heavily-scripted narrative sections – but the interplay with the audience is good, and the show as a whole is sure to loosen up as time goes on. So as things stand, Escape won’t quite be setting the world on fire, but it’s a solidly entertaining hour and it promises well for the future.