John Lenahan: Up Close

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Many performers would be disappointed that only a handful of punters braved the early January chill to see them, but veteran comedy-magician John Lenahan says he likes it that way – for this show, at least – as it means everyone gets a ringside seat for his intimate sleight-of-hand tricks.

These are the sort of close-up routines he normally performs at the tables of swanky corporate or cabaret nights, but now he has a residency in the much less showy surrounds of Camden’s Etcetera Theatre for his back-to-basics repertoire of faithful old standards that impress because of his practised dexterity, rather than startling originality.

The first half is comprised entirely of card tricks. Cards are chosen and discovered, transformed into other cards, or produced unexpectedly from the middle of the deck. The pace is fast, and Lenahan’s skill unquestionable; although the constant blur of cards flipping around before your eyes has a hypnotic effect.

That every such nimble-fingered trick inevitably end up with the cards not being where you expect – however varied the mechanism that gets you there – mean he has a struggle to make one reveal more impressive than the next. The danger is that the repetition leads the audience to become blasé about even quite impressive magic; a risk he admits in his amiable patter, but can’t quite overcome.

With more than a quarter of century of experience behind him, this former street magician makes a charming host. He doesn’t aim for laughs, just to make the audience comfortable, especially when punters may be feeling self-conscious and exposed given the low turnout. In that, his natural warmth and likeability means he certainly succeeds. Meanwhile, his history of age-old illusions such as Doc Daley’s Last Trick, in which aces seem to switch places, add a fascinating backdrop to his prestidigitations.

In the second half, Lenahan abandons his beloved deck of cards for a wider variety of tricks; although surely everyone’s seen several versions of the cutting and restoring of a length of rope illusion by now. Then there’s some business involving poker chips which is billed as The Trick That Fooled Einstein – which is a matter of such basic algebra that means either the greatest scientific genius of the 20th century can’t quite have been all that good at maths – or that I’m brighter than Einstein. Sadly the second option evaporates when Lenahan reveals the trick’s name is myth, with no basis in fact.

His final two set pieces are, however, truly impressive. Two lengths of cord appear to become miraculously knotted within a box, despite all possible trickery seemingly ruled out; while his version of the cups-and-balls routine, which begins fast but pedestrian, but has a genuinely unexpected payoff.

Familiarity with many of Lenahan’s tricks may well mean your mind is left unblown, but his skill is impressive, his chat engaging and the show entertaining – even if he doesn’t manage to conjour up a bigger audience.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, January 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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