Carl-Einar Hackner at the Roundhouse, Camden

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

His name might not mean much to you, unless you were a particularly avid follower of the line-ups of cult variety night La Clique, but Swedish oddball Carl-Einar Hacknrr is offering one of the silliest ways to spend an hour in London this December.

He’s a Nordic Tommy Cooper, with a dash of Lee Evans’s slapstick physicality and a seasoning of deranged bleakness that you might expect, coming from the land of Bergman.

The first half of this show is an energetic roustabout of explosively brilliant visual gags, with Hackner trying to hold in his desperation as he tries to play the snazzy entertainer, despite his apparent incompetence. In his dazzling white suit – straight from the ‘after’ shot of a Persil ad – he bleakly tries to maintain his reluctant showmanship as props collapse, tricks are clumsily revealed and painful mishaps befall him.

As BBC and ITV prepare to launch rival primetime magic-show spectaculars, you can be sure Hackner won’t be on the shortlist. Instead, he delivers a sublime piece of physical comedy, sure to delight even those for whom the very words ‘physical comedy’ are anathema.

With a face apparently fashioned by the Jim Henson workshop, his expressions alone are a joy as he tries, unsuccessfully, to project an upbeat front as his attempts at creating magical wonder fall around him like so much cheap Ikea furniture (and yes, he comprehensively covers the Ikea angle, too). He’s so brilliant at failing, it’s almost a disappointment when a trick actually works, a rare occurrence but just enough to prove the klutziness is an act.

As a foreigner, he has a great sense of being an outsider, exaggerated by his wilful mangling of the English tongue which gives him an endearing naivety… not to mention the inspiration for the ‘magic in a foreign language’ sketch in which he brilliantly, and messily, misunderstands a ‘teach yourself’ tape.

The breathlessly manic pace of the slapstick, honed over a career, can’t be sustained for the hour, and in the second half he kicks back, relaxing into an Abba-style spangled catsuit for a more sedate, but none the less deranged, section. Odd love songs, an extended, pointlessly meandering diversion about Bob Dylan (or ‘Barwb Dee-lon’ as he awkwardly pronounces it), and stilted audience banter about he melancholy of loneliness or the psychology of perception. The laughs come slower here, but he remains so intriguing the room are held in his strange power.

It’s still as mad, but les maniacally so; all part of a quirky show that puts funny peculiar alongside funny ha-ha. It’s worth making sure this Swede is on your Christmas menu.

Review date: 7 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Roundhouse

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