By Jeremy Miles
They may claim that variety is dead but someone forgot to tell Paul Daniels. After his recent success on the Edinburgh Fringe, the one-time top TV conjuror has repackaged his inimitable brand of old school magic and is driving around the provinces in a car full of rabbits doing one-nighters.
It’s an intriguing sight. At Poole, Daniels and his wife and assistant - the “lovely” Debbie McGee - hit the stage like the past 30 years had never happened. The result was some very slick sleight-of-hand and a splendidly cheesy looking production.
Despite the self-deprecating title of the show, jokes about the diminutive entertainer’s much ridiculed toupee were dispensed with in the first few minutes of the production. A suitably horrid ‘syrup’, a gingery relic from the past was consigned to Daniels’ personal dustbin of history. Though, as it’s no doubt used in every show on the tour, just for now its in the recycling container. There was a grudging acknowledgement too for Sooty, the glove puppet who recently managed to hospitalise Daniels with a pizza in the face.
There is no such thing has bad publicity and he knows it but one gets the impression that, after five decades in show business, Paul Daniels is just a tad weary of the snide jokes about his hair, his height, his age, his wife....you name it. A real trouper, he responds with opportunist fervour. Giving as good as he gets and dishing out deceptively barbed insults with a big showbiz smile that could just be a snarl.
He may not have 18 million viewers these days but Paul Daniels knows his business inside out and there’s much respect from fellow professionals. More than 30 magicians were in the Lighthouse audience and were clearly impressed by the precision and showmanship of an act that hovered somewhere between Tommy Cooper and Penn and Teller. There is even a knowing swipe at the entertainment snobs who decry acts like this. The show has the look of a Working Men’s club dressed by Abigail’s Party. When the decorative Debs swans on in an electric puce gown that almost gives off sparks you half expect her to have a plate of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks to hand around.
Although she never did answer Mrs Merton’s famous question: “What was that first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”, Debbie McGee is somehow an inseparable part of one of the most unequal acts in the history of theatre.
You could even buy Paul and Debbie cardboard masks from the merchandising stall in the foyer. They were £3-each or two for a fiver but frankly looked quite disturbing lying there with holes where the eyes should be.
On stage the couple don’t so much enjoy carefully honed repartee as bicker at each other and while Daniels tries to make clear who’s boss - “Who said you could have a speaking part?” and “Just remember this tour is paying for your next pair of shoes” - McGee just smiles serenely giving the audience a knowing look and just perhaps answering Mrs Merton’s query.
Paul’s son, comedy magician and (talent-wise) rather a small chip off the old block, Martin Daniels, helped warm things up nicely. There was a good line in audience participation too including the chance to ridicule a local bank manager. How the punters loved that. Poor bloke. You’d never have guessed that it’s the city not the High Street that has brought the economy to its knees. Mind you since when did they start employing bank mangers who’s idea of a fun Sunday night out is to take the Mrs to a Paul Daniels show?
Ironically the ongoing fiscal collapse of the nation even impacted on Daniels magic act. Calling a couple of victims to the stage he asked them to hand over the contents of their wallets and was aghast at how little they contained.