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BWW Reviews: CHRIS DUGDALE, Riverside Studios, September 2 2010

When I was a kid, magicians were patrician types like David Nixon, smartarses like Paul Daniels or clowns like Tommy Cooper. By the time I was making money disappear in the pubs of South London, magicians were rather camp Hollywood types like David Copperfield or very camp Vegas types like Siegfried and Roy. But by the time I had kids, magic was suddenly cool, a change led by a pre-bonkers David Blaine in the mean streets of New York and Los Angeles. There was no wand, no showgirl in sparkly costume and no way that could be happening! No way!!

That simplification ignores the fact that magic has a rich culture and history outside whatever fad is attracting television producers, and a body of knowledge and skills every bit as complex and difficult as any other art. Although no magician ever forgets that their first obligation is to entertain the audience, the days of people scoffing that "it's all done with mirrors" or "that bloke on the stage with the magician is actually his brother" have long gone and today's audience is there to appreciate the technique as much as to be gobsmackingly amazed.

It is with this sense of his audience that Chris Dugdale has constructed a two-hour show of illusions and mind-reading perfectly staged in a space big enough to build an atmosphere, but intimate enough for his public to see, but not believe. The first half blends tricks using traditional props like cards, coins and rings with some innovative use of back-projected video. My favourite segment was entirely patter-free, as Chris manipulated an ordinary (or so it seemed) piece of rope in something closer to dance than conjuring. The second half of the show is dedicated to mind-reading and a lovely piece of story-telling/card manipulation and just avoids being overly long for a punch-drunk audience, high on the feeling that nothing is impossible.

Though young - he looks like Robbie Williams just after he left Take That - Chris Dugdale has mastered the skills of the close magic and has the ability to carry 120 minutes of entertainment alone on an almost bare stage. There's plenty of audience participation (both your reviewer and his son were involved) but those on stage are there to assist in the act and respected as such - there is no bullying in this show. Though there are plenty of quips in the act, Chris keeps the show clean, which means that it's suitable for all ages - kids and parents pull exactly the same faces in shock at what they're witnessing.

Some people will never get magic, but if you do, this show offers superb value from a man completely in control of his material and audience. See him now before he er...disappears to bigger venues and the lure of Las Vegas.

Chris Dugdale is at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith until 19 September.   



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