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Ali Cook: Pieces Of Strange

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

This doesn’t seem like the place for it at all. Magician Ali Cook should surely be doing his stunning tricks in a glitzy theatre, not the disused billiard room of an appropriated student union.

But he certainly hasn’t let the modesty of the venue limit his ambition, with a finale recreating a Houdini escape from a water tank that has never been performed on the Fringe before. It’s a dramatically astounding climax to a hugely impressive show that’s never short on spectacle.

As well as escapology, Cook does jaw-dropping Derren Brown-style mind-reading feats, fabulously dextrous close-up magic, a gruesome gross-out prank plus some conjuring tricks the like of which you’ve probably never seen before – and that we won’t spoil by even attempting to describe here.

Yet even though the tricks are genuinely astounding, Cook handles them casually, with none of the naff grandstanding razzmatazz of old-school magicians, which only heightens the effect of surprise.

In fact, the only aspect of his show that isn’t mind-blowing is the comedy. When he breaks for small segments of gag-driven stand-up you’re less likely to ask: ‘How the hell does he do that?’ than ‘Why the hell…’. It’s not that the mix of silly jokes and ‘I’m sick, me’ patter is particularly terrible – though he occasionally crosses the cheesy line – but that it’s just ordinary compared to tricks that are so extraordinary.

But generally he has the cheeky Yorkshire patter to keep the show moving nicely, and some formidable performance skills, which are shown to best effect in the grisly ‘swallowing razor blades’ stunt which he has performed in previous shows. Cook effects the demeanour of a trooper battling through, despite his strength fading from massive blood loss, finally giving a grotesque thumbs-up on achieving his Pyrrhic triumph.

Meanwhile, the prediction tricks are truly awesome, one involving an 11-digit number especially seeming to defy all laws of nature. With impressve skills such as this, Cook won’t be playing the small rooms much longer, but even close-up you still won’t be able to fathom how he does any of it.

Review date: 8 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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