Brighton Fringe 2010
Paul Zenon’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Venue: The Brunswick
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Renowned magician, Paul Zenon reminisces about his childhood passion for magic and the great acts that have inspired him, interspersed with songs and tricks.
The stage was evocative of an old junk shop, mysterious bazaar, or travelling freakshow—full of strange bric-a-brac, such as a statue of the Egyptian god, Anubis, a mermaid Barbie doll and gold-painted torsos. On the far side of the room was a display of real and fake relics and excellent artwork by Paul Garner. Each painting was inspired by a “true” story based on the relics and various freaks and unusual tales, such as the fishmonger who, in 1954, grafted various bits of aquatic life on to his wife’s body. The mini-exhibition added an extra dimension to the surreal carnivalesque atmosphere of the show.
The performance opened with amusing voice-over by Zenon reminding the audience that they’d all be dead soon so they might as well enjoy the show while they could. Musician Pete Howells appeared on stage and played a fairground-waltz on the keyboard as a lead in to Zenon appearing on stage dressed in a black jacket, flat cap and neckerchief, which gave an overall Dickensian appearance. He performed a brief, but impressive, fire-eating trick and then proceeded to vividly reminisce about his first childhood visit to Blackpool on holiday and his epiphinany moment at the age of 9 when he discovered that the life of a magician was for him. The versatile Howells then performed a Bluesy-church revival number followed by more personal nostalgia and tricks from Zenon. The magician then talked about his various passions including the Titanic—accompanied by Howell’s amusing composition about Siamese twins on board the ill-fated liner. The first half ended with the revealing of a “genuine” mermaid skeleton, for the audience to gawp at in the interval.
The highlights of the second act included excellent sleight of hand, capturing bubbles, and a very impressive levitation trick. Intermingled with the act Howells’ songs blended perfectly, complimenting Zenon’s stories and tricks with a mixture of sea shanties and Tom Waits-like growling on Sweet Rosabelle. After discussing his favourite magicians, and their uncompromising lives, Zenon finished with Houdini’s favourite trick, the East Indian Needle Mystery, which involved Zenon swallowing 5 needles and separate cotton strand, only to pull the whole lot from his mouth completely threaded.
The witty writing cleverly encapsulated the period and setting of Zenon’s childhood, with observational details that the audience found empathetic. His self-deprecating humour and personable script came across as warm and gave insight into his passion for collecting tricks, carnival items and oddities.
Zenon’s delivery and demeanour was that of a slick, true professional and he equally entertained and informed the audience with fascinating tales of the lives of classic acts such as Chung Ling Su, Alexander and, inevitably, Harry Houdini. This was not a standard magic/comedy show, which is Zenon’s usual modus operandi, and he pulled it off with aplomb.