Carl-Einar Hackner: Heart
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
Magical, musical comedy from the man voted Sweden's funniest entertainer (and sexiest man). By turns hilarious and breathtaking: Tommy Cooper meets Alice Cooper.
With his unconventional features and malleable Latex face, Sweden's Carl-Einar Hackner looks as if he could have been forged in the Jim Henson Workshop.
It's a look, and flexibility, he uses to impressive effect in the memorable opening section of his routine. Like a cartoon in human form, he takes to the stage as a virtuouso musician, albeit on down on his luck with frayed suit, battered violin case and ill-kemp hair.
Pompous classical musicians usually mean one thing in comedy: slapstick. And there's no shortage of that here as he bumbles his way though the set, breaking props, bashing into the mike stand and taking the obligatory pratfall.
The image that will burn into your memory, though, is the shenanigans he gets up to with a harmonica, which ends up, disturbingly, on the wrong side of his lips. Disgusting, yes, but very funny and surely causing him some sort of permanent damage, you fear. If nothing else, it proves what lengths people will go to for a laugh.
But after this tour de force of physical comedy, things go downhill all the way, and at quite an incline, too.
From hereon in, he becomes a magician, and an inept one at that. Which is of course the joke, in true Tommy Cooper style. The thing is, he does genuinely seem to think some of the off-the-shelf magic store tricks are worthy of our acclaim, and rustles up rather to many of them for any irony to hold. Many don't go wrong with hilarious consequences, they are just cheap tricks literally.
He's essentially a prop comic, and it almost goes without saying that it's all very silly, but he too often crosses the fine line between carefree abandon and shambolic chaos.
Hackner also has the aura of a street entertainer, always encouraging the audience to clap and whistle along, and with the same big, dramatic gestures that may draw a passing crowd. The stance injects some jollity into proceedings, but can also smack of desperation if the material cannot match the enthusiasm.
There is the odd fine moment in this second half, a gag involving a Teach Yourself Magic cassette standing out above the mediocre, but the fear is that he has become the cheap, tacky, magician he is supposed to be parodying.
On the downside, an escapologist stuffed dog called, inevitably, Houndini is a low and the final trick is just baffling, although Hackner tries to explain that technical problems so early in the run kyboshed the intended big ending.
He later explained to me what should have happened, and it made a lot more sense. But I can't be giving out stars for descriptions of what the show should have been...