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Me and Paul Daniels Part V

pd maliniAs noted in previous postings, I saw Paul Daniels live at various times throughout his career.  Perhaps his most unusual and innovative venture was a show called Paul Daniels presents The Magic of Max Malini.  Max Malini was a famous American magician (1873-1942) who earnt his living as an itinerant performer, travelling around the country and abroad and doing his tricks in different hotels and other venues.  He was not a theatrical performer, rather he specialised in private parties.

One can see why Malini appealed to Daniels.  Both men were small in stature and had strong, dominating personalities.  It would seem that Malini performed at the drop of a hat to anyone and in every situation: he was never 'off', whether performing or telling amusing stories.  And this was true of Daniels too.  Malini by all accounts was a master of misdirection and sleight of hand, performing skills that Daniels certainly would have considered himself an expert in.

Daniels was good friends with Ken Brooke, a magic dealer.  And Ken liked to relate the story of a magician wanting to buy a book and that he suggested Malini & his Magic by Lewis Ganson.  The potential purchaser flicked through it and said he wasn't interested.  Ken then performed a trick which completely fried the magician.  "Where can I buy that from?" he asked.  "It's on page 35 of Malini & his Magic" was Ken's response.  I'm sure Daniels must have heard that anecdote.

malini and his magicBarry Murray, who worked with Daniels on BBC's The Paul Daniels Magic Show, gave Paul the idea of playing Malini in a dedicated show. However the finished product was solely down to Paul's self direction.  The first time Paul did it was at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2003.  There it lasted one hour; but when I saw it in London, the following March, he had expanded it to a two hour show including an interval.

The ticket price was £57; here again Daniels was following Malini, who was very good at honing in on wealthy private clients for his magic.  Possibly he was also following the example of Ricky Jay, who four years previously had charged an unprecedented £45 for a ticket to see Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants.

If ever a show summed up the strengths and weaknesses of Paul Daniels, this show did.  To start with the positive: many of the audience the night I was in seemed to know Daniels - this included the ex-politician David Mellor and his wife.  Daniels was great with the by-play with these people and his relaxed style and chatting his way through tricks gave it a cosy and intimate atmosphere. 

By far his best, and most amusing trick, was the Coin Game, the very trick that Ken Brooke had performed from the Malini & his Magic book.  It is essentially a 'con bet' although it is presented as pure skill on the magician's part.  Daniels made the audience members stake money which, having won, he said would go to charity.  It was a throwback to his Bunco Booth days on The Paul Daniels Magic Show and, as such, suited Daniels perfectly.

The main problem with the show was that it appeared so under-rehearsed.  At times Daniels would refer to a sheet of paper he had with the tricks listed on them.  He would look down at it and say something like: "what comes next – oh yes, we’ll do this now".  In the middle of one trick he told Debbie to go to the dressing room and fetch a prop he had forgotten.  Most of the patter was descriptive, rather than having any specific lines to go along with the tricks.  He had plenty of technical difficulties too - which again almost certainly resulted from lack of practise. 

maliniAnybody who wants to go back and read my original review of this show on Magic Week may be rather taken aback by the above.  Was I being disingenuous?  Partly, yes.  I had to write something, as I had been given a free ticket; but couldn't see there was anything to be gained by criticising the show at the time (although one magician has never forgiven me to this day, claiming that my review had persuaded him and his family to go). 

However I feel I made the right decision.  Magicians like myself might find plenty of faults; but there was no doubt in my mind that the non-magicians in the audience had genuinely enjoyed the "Daniels's experience".

Furthermore, if I had been overly critical, it surely would have sounded like professional jealousy or sour grapes.  On the same day as my review appeared, there was a round-robin email from Debbie McGee, in which she effusively sung the praises of the show.  She wrote: "I have known Paul now for 26 years and have seen him perform, literally, thousands of times in every kind of venue. I have never seen  him give a better performance than on this night [this was three nights before I saw it].  He was relaxed, in control and quite amazing.  The audience, mostly made up from lay people and dotted with British stars from entertainment, were totally baffled and that amazement was very real.  A standing ovation came at the end."  And this was followed up with a PS:

"We just had a phone call from Mike Margolis, who worked on the David Nixon show for six years. Mike said that he learned more about the true Art of Magic on Monday night than in all of those six years.  'I have worked with so many magicians, but that night I saw real magic at work.  Thank you'. "

Sometimes you just have to bow to the inevitable and I'm glad I did on this occasion. 

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