Edinburgh Fringe 2019
“La Clique’s master magician and mischief maker, ‘C4 Countdown’s wild man of the wand’ (Independent), is back – hang onto your valuables and chuckle muscles.”
I’ve seen the work of Paul Zenon a few times over the years. A couple of years back his excellent “Linking Rings” took a part-sabbatical from a full-on magic show and became an emotional and skilled piece of theatre-based storytelling, lifting the lid on a cabinet of wonderful curiosities – a selective, revealing and inspiring personal life story. In that show there were tears on both sides of the fourth wall. It was a magical performance, flavoured with just a few tricks.
A few elements of that story appear in this one at Le Monde. The venue is the near perfect cabaret space for a fringe offering that is really three shows rolled into one (How did he do that?). We have, of course, the master at work – and he really he a master at his craft; we are presented with a packed hour, so many tricks, some causing collective gasps from the audience who lean forward, so as not to miss a moment.
Zenon has been at this game for a good while but he is not only the trickster, traditional magician – he is also the man whose own autobiography was a profound encounter with makers of tricks, the realm of Houdini, the circus and the seaside joke and trick shops that had mysterious back rooms where the tools of the trade were fashioned with legendary skill and imagination. That creates a backdrop mood for this show. Zenon looks and exudes the business, transitioning with ease into the role of skilled and generous storyteller.
If that were not enough, there is top drawer stand-up woven in and out of the magic and the tasty morsels of autobiography. There were laughs coming from the stage like relentless silks from a magician’s hand.
Once again, the structure of the show itself is like a linking rings trick. It’s seamless, and makes the show feel thoroughly satisfying as something to witness and be occasionally pulled up from the audience to help with a trick. The fourth wall is pretty much down throughout and Zenon is performer, comedian, cabaret host and amiable guide through the material. And all of that is at the services of top quality magic.
If I saw one trick’s secret source from my seat at the wings, that was only part of the charm, because this is a humble man with a natural assurance that never feels for a moment like preening or showing off. He’s more than ok with what he is doing. Zenon is both the tricks and the show.
The hour races by, with a breakneck speed routine followed by slow motion sleight of hand, and then stillness and piercing eye contact before a punchline, a pay-off or a cheeky smile has us all whooping with delight and collapsing into laughter. The comedy is mostly put to the service of the magic, with a tipped hat to the likes of Tommy Cooper – this is modern and retro, dead serious and satire, all forming a tapestry of styles, gags, chat and narrative.
We are on his side throughout and there’s a calm, collective appreciation of the master at work. He’s the source inspiration for many magicians I suspect, his roots go deep and he is still, not only on top of his game, but also tinkering at the edges of that game so that new shows always feel fresh. There were many magic shows at this year’s fringe. If you only have time for one, at any venue on the planet, Paul Zenon has to be the must see.