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Pete Firman: Jiggery Pokery

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jason Stone

What do you do with a problem like magic?  Its presence in the comedy section of the Fringe brochure is the result of an historic categorisation difficulty.  Until the creation of the cabaret category this year, they didn't really belong anywhere else – and even now, most remain listed under comedy, presumably because of the amusing patter used in the cause of misdirection, as well as a resistance to change.

A distinction needs be drawn between magicians who occasionally employ comedy and comedians who occasionally employ magic.  Tommy Cooper fell into the latter; Pete Firman belongs firmly to the former, and would obviously never have the temerity to compare himself to the Fez-wearing genius. A less flattering comparison stands up though; if you close your eyes when watching Firman then you might notice a disturbing aural similarity to another son of Middlesbrough: Paul Daniels.

The two have more in common than their home city.  Like Daniels before him, Firman continually suggests to his audience that they are in the company of an accomplished ladykiller (and not because he accidentally sawed one in half when perfecting his craft).  Referring to himself at one point as the 'Firminator', the young magician consistently expressed the sexual self-confidence one might expect from a porn star.  It was hard to know whether it was supposed to be ironic but it sounded like something that had begun life as self-deprecation and had morphed into narcissism.

The humour in Firman's show is built on expression of this pseudo-arrogance as well as personal remarks about members of the audience.  The jacket of a man who was dragged from the audience to help with a particularly unsuccessful routine was continuously mocked... had the man been up to it, he might have remarked that his sartorial shortcomings were on a par with Firman's execution of the trick.

For what it's worth, Firman's 'magic' isn't terribly exciting.  Only another conjurer is qualified to say whether Firman executes his tricks skillfully but to the layman it's all a bit prosaic.  In the last few years Derren Brown has changed expectations of this form of entertainment and he's achieved this by eschewing the idea of 'magic' and replacing it with an ostensibly more honest approach based on psychological manipulation.  It feels more grown-up than the 'magic' of old and makes an act like Firman feel extremely old-fashioned.

That said, one or two of the tricks are genuinely impressive and the audience certainly appeared to enjoy Firman's performance, hokum and all, but they weren't there for the comedy. They were there to enjoy the illusions... to see at first hand the tricks they had seen performed on television.  And there's no doubt that some of these tricks are a lot more enjoyable when you know that the practitioner isn't aided and abetted by the use of camera trickery.

Firman's comedy only needs to be good enough to distract the audience from the sleight of hand; and although he pulls this off, his act is certainly found wanting when judged only on its ability to make the audience laugh.

Review date: 16 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Jason Stone

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