Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
A delightful intermingling of magic, theatre and storytelling, as Paul Zenon links rings with Harry Houdini, his right-hand man and a Blackpool magic shop proprietor.
Paul Zenon is a very talented man. A brilliant close up magician – or liar as he calls himself – a comedian, a storyteller, a philosopher, a historian and an archivist. “Linking Rings” is semi-autobiographical, but much more than that – it is an attempt to come to terms with his obsession with Harry Houdini (including collecting original plate photographs from auctions) and to quantify his relationship with the owner of a magic tricks shop in Blackpool – his childhood mentor, sometime employer, trick builder and lifelong friend.
History can cause problems for some people. There is such a gulf between us and Harry Houdini that younger generations won’t know how amazing he was – or how globally famous. Zenon’s childhood holiday trips to Blackpool and the meeting with Bill – owner of the “The House of Secrets” near the Central Pier, catapulted him into what has been an extraordinary journey and career. Summer seasons, television series, Countdown and now street magic have been steps along the way, but here in this intimate room in Edinburgh, a few feet from the audience, we are treated to a masterclass in close up magic, woven through a story which is wry, sly, hilarious and poignant. Some of the tricks bridge transitions and are delivered with a wink and a twinkle – and a good helping of irony and self-awareness. It’s never cocky, or sentimental, just a reminder of how good variety can be in the right hands. The Linking Rings trick, beautifully performed with the assistance of the front row is the metaphor for these interlocking tales – Zenon’s love of Houdini, his right hand man Jim – and Bill.
The intermingling of the two parallel stories is impressive and engaging. Houdini’s trick coordinator Jim is a bit of a mystery and Zenon spent quite a lot of time researching genealogy sites to get to the heart of him. He finds a man who is above all utterly loyal and reliable – a rare quality, but fundamental to Houdini’s success. Similarly, Zenon’s friendship with Bill, who lets the young boy demonstrate tricks for customers before giving him a job for the summer, is founded on trust. The development of both careers and friendships is observed with loving detail, lots of humour and is moving without ever sinking into sentimentality.
With clever use of lights operated by foot pedals, some props and a trunk with padlocks, Zenon negotiates his way through Houdini’s fame at its height and his agonising final few days. Clearly moved himself , he relates Bill’s story and his final days almost as if he were an additional parent and he his protégé. It is ultimately a deeply satisfying 70 minutes of theatre, storytelling and magic – all of which combine into something which is unique – and magical.