Penn and Teller – London Apollo – Review


As a fellow practitioner of the “dark arts”, I’ve long admired the work of Penn and Teller, yet I’ve never seen them live, as for the last nine years they’ve been based primarily in Las Vegas with their hit show at the Rio Hotel.

After a hiatus of 15 years they announced they were returning to the UK for five dates only, I immediately booked my tickets and have been waiting patiently.

Last nights performance was certainly the best magical performance I’ve ever seen.(I’ve sat through some truly dire magic acts in my time) The magic truly was magical, mouths were just dropping, gasps were audible as they performed their effects. From the opening where a block is smashed off Teller’s head, to the quiet but poignant fire eating end, this was a stupendous piece of live entertainment.

Of particular joy to me was seeing Teller perform his “Shadows” effect, this is a beautiful piece of theatre. Rarely is a magician so creative and clever. His “Misers Dream” effect where coins are produce literally from nowhere, again was just gorgeous and the climax, literally took my breath away (you’ll have to go see them to find out what happens.)

Penn handled his spectators with such charm and reassurance it was a pleasure to see how they interacted and included them in the show. Penn is a consummate raconteur and showman and his witty lines, slick and fast paced presentation was a great foil to the silence of Teller.  Penn’s nail gun trick had me wincing, but in a good way!

The final monologue was a great way of bringing the show to a close and Penn’s fire eating was wonderful and as he stated, “not a trick, just skill and getting used to be burned”

To describe this as a “magic show” , really would be to belittle it, it is a piece of theatre (which most magic acts are anything but). As they renounce religious beliefs, charlatans and psychics, you get caught up in their passion that the human being has an ability to see the miraculous when actually it’s aways just a trick. I’m currently studying a module on “Theatre of the Absurd” at college, and without wanting to sound pretentious, this show fits perfectly into that genre of theatre (looking in the programme, some of their influences were Absurdists).

I left the theatre  in wonder, and a smile on my face content in the knowledge that I went to see the best magicians on the face of the planet, I can assure you that’s no hyperbole, but a fact.

5 thoughts on “Penn and Teller – London Apollo – Review

  1. Nice review. I was thinking about the show, and agree with you in many respects although I have to admit that I still find Derren Brown’s shows (backed by the insanely good co-writing of Andy Nyman) to be the better of the two. Both of them harken back to the vaudeville days – and I particularly liked Teller’s Shadows effect as I really felt, in that theatre, like I had been transported back in time and witnessing a magical event. However, I feel like the Brown/Nyman approach doesn’t require one to suspend your disbelief somewhat – you really have no choice but to!

    With the Penn & Teller show, I felt like I was watching masters of an Art at work – and it was truly wonderful and entertaining (particularly Penn’s ability at patter and audience management). But I still have to give the trophy to ‘best magical/mentalist act in the world’ at the moment to Brown/Nyman. To me, they are revolutionising the art whilst still being completely faithful to its history…having said that, I still recognise that they only really could be what they are because of the contributions that Penn & Teller have made over the past few decades. Very happy to have had the opportunity to see them!

  2. I enjoyed the show a lot but I have to admit it felt a bit disjointed to me at points especially in the first half. That just reflects my personal preference probably and I marginally prefer Brown’s shows with big set peices in the second halves.

    From Time Out – “Even now I hate those magicians who claim to read body language, or use psychology or feats of memory in their acts – it’s just bullshit, man.’ I wonder which side of the line he thinks Brown is.
    Penn’s outlook on magic is amusingly anti-Brown if you choose to read it that way – the predictions, memory/book tests et al and the vague disclaimers (“….and showmanship”).

    The book test bit was a bit of a head**** for some of the auidence – certainly the person from work I dragged along with me spotted the most likely balcony (couldn’t see downstairs) book test method within seconds and she subsequently wondered aloud whether that could have been used for a series of Brown tricks she’d seen (the answer being probably not for quite a lot of them!). Penn and Teller doing a quick book test section with that presentation certainly provides a challenge to those who “believe” in Derren and have been to see his shows with that perspective. Lets face it there was probably a big overlap between their London crowds.

    Anyhow Teller and Brown seem to have a good friendship. I can’t wait for the magic books those two might produce towards the ends of their careers.

  3. Thanks for the comments, (sorry for the delay in replying, it’s been a manic week)

    I love Derren Brown and Andy Nyman’s work. I would say Derren is the best live “magic” act and performer in the UK without question. However the fact that P+T have been doing 5 shows a week for 9 years (plus all the previous years experience they have) clearly shows and makes them a sharper act than DB in my view. I’ve not seen DB’s most recent Enigma show, but have enjoyed seeing him develop over the previous 3 shows and get better and better.

    I liked the fact that P+T’s show was a series of separate “set pieces” and I felt Penn wonderfully tied it all together at the end.

    As for the book test, I’m not a huge fan of them, the best I’ve seen was Marc Salem, who did it with a book borrowed from the audience (it happened to be me!). I do agree with Penn though that the whole NLP/Body language thing is just presentational bull*£@t.

    Another friend questioned whether to compare P+T and DB is fair? I see where they’re coming from. For me personally, I’ll always prefer sleight of hand to mentalism.

    The reviews have been positive, most notably The Stage’s, the reviewer even commented they thought the London show was better than the Vegas one!

    I too look forward to reading what they have to write, hopefully in the not too distant future.

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