Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Regular Little Houdini

Flying Bridge Theatre , Chapter and touring , January-27-17
A Regular Little Houdini by Flying Bridge Theatre HOUDINI, magician and internationally acclaimed escapologist paid his first visit to play to capacity crowds at the splendid Lyceum Theatre in Newport in 1905. He returned again in 1913 when he defied the Newport Council and the police with his death-defying leap from the Newport Bridge into the muddy river Usk below.

Even today the Transporter Bridge remains an iconic Newport landmark. The bridge plays a central part in Llewelyn-Williams’ masterly told tale. There were two major disasters whilst the bridge was being built. The first involved a feisty young man Tom ‘Toya’ Lewis. He dived deep into the mud and rescued his work-mate Fred Bardill who was held down in the chasm by a large wooden girder. Lewis was awarded the Albert Medal for conspicuous bravery for his heroic achievements, and is remembered to this day by a Wetherspoon pub that bears his name.

From these facts in his author role, Llewelyn-Williams has created a captivating romance and in his actor role tells it to us with great grace and humour. He takes on to himself the part of a young man, Alan Williams, who may have a touch of Tom ‘Toya’ Lewis about him. Alan was around at the time of Houdini’s first visit to Newport. The actor also retains his own charm to continually delight us.

The young Alan is obsessed by magic and a big Houdini fan; for his birthday his dad had bought him Houdini’s book of magic tricks. So we get some magician practice with cigarettes, coins and playing cards with a twinkle in the performer’s eye. When he moves on to emulate his hero’s startling performance on the Transporter Bridge we get the real drama. Llewelyn-Williams is such a consummate actor that we see not the solo artist on the stage but the whole of the tense drama that takes place on the bridge inside our own heads and we feel the pain as the young man clings to the rusting metal of the bridge. The Houdini tales are subtlety interwoven with accounts of the developing Newport docks, which, at the beginning of the twentieth century played a major part in the commercial activities of the times.

We hear of many Irish people fleeing the potato famine arriving in Newport, ballast in the returning Welsh coal ships. Director Joshua Richards (well known for his own one man show on the Life of Richard Burton) and his actor work hand in hand making all the aspects of this eclectic narrative merge smoothly together and move along at a perfect pace. A joyous presentation of theatre art that will delight and engross all who are fortunate to be able to experience it.

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Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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