You'd never guess it, but Harry Houdini loved Newport. He loved the grand Lyceum Theatre there, and chose the South Wales town to kick off his first international tour in 1905. However, the superstar escapologist and magician had a habit of making enemies as well as friends in Newport, ever since the trick he pulled escaping from Newport jail, putting the local constabulary to shame. The police never exactly greeted him back to Newport with open arms after that, but it didn't stop him going.
Daniel Llewelyn-Williams's one-man play takes Houdini's connection with Newport as the inspiration for what is a heartwarming and enthralling tale of childhood heroes, working class hardship and fatal disasters. Llewelyn-Williams plays a young boy called Alun (aged variously between 10 and 14) who idolises Houdini and spends his boyhood trying to learn his hero's tricks, or "amazements" as he insists they should be called.
He spends hours, days, weeks and months trying to learn how to pick-pick-pick the lock of a jammed pair of handcuffs, and practices the water torture cell stunt in a tidal pipe in the River Usk. He can hold his breath for longer than most, and gets his friend Morris to hold him underwater until he masters his escape.
Llewelyn-Williams captures the excitable energy and wide-eyed wonder of a 10-year-old boy perfectly, and has stage charisma of his own to make the lad real, believable, even loveable. Family tragedy and personal hardship taint the little lad's life, and Llewelyn-Williams has the audience rapt with his storytelling. He is amiable and endearing, making the highs and lows of Alun's story all the more affecting. The moment when the boy finally gets to meet his childhood hero is heartwarming, and just as rewarding for the audience as the boy.
It's a compelling story, made up of comedy, tragedy, danger and suspense, and has a fist-pumping climax which swells the heart due to its sheer simplicity. If you like a rollicking good story, told by somebody with great charisma and skill, this show is for you. It's even got magic tricks!
Writer and performer: Daniel Llewelyn-Williams
Director: Joshua Richards
Performed at 10 Dome, Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh, August 3rd to 29th, 2016. Performance reviewed: August 15th, 2016.
A Regular Little Houdini website (retrieved Aug 16 2016)
Houdini in Newport (retrieved Aug 16 2016)