EFR - Reviews of Laura London: Cheat

Laura London: Cheat

Sat 6th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Ellen Hodgetts

at 17:34 on 20th Aug 2016

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Laura London’s ‘Cheat’ explores the world of card cheats in the early 1900s, offering a refreshing take on the tired formula of most magic shows. By combining her displays of tricks and sleights with the touchingly personal narrative story of Geraldine Hartmann, a card cheat from the 1920s, London prevents her act from becoming boring. It is a nostalgic look at the history of the games, complete with extracts from a journal which London claims belonged to Geraldine herself. Although the action of the show is focused around the table on which London manoeuvres and manipulates the cards, the use of a cleverly positioned camera and a projection screen behind her means that the audience is able to see every movement of the cards.

The ‘ballroom’ space of The Voodoo Rooms bar and restaurant lends itself perfectly to the atmosphere created by this story, enhancing the ‘speak-easy’ style atmosphere which is perpetuated throughout. The 1920s set, complete with art deco photo frames and London herself in a beaded dress brings to life the world described in the journals of Geraldine. At times, however, this portrayal becomes slightly forced, for example when she brings audience members up on stage and costumes them to fit in with the style with bowler hats and long, flapper style necklace chains. As a result of actions such as these, at times the narrative feels a little contrived, but this is countered by London herself, who is an engaging and eloquent storyteller, capturing the audience’s attention from the opening with her personable manner. Through a series of tricks and sleights requiring audience participation, the crowd are kept on their toes – whilst I had initially expected to become bored of a series of card trick after card trick, this act is a refreshing take on magic and suspends disbelief throughout.

‘Cheat’ is a show that offers something different from the other theatre and comedy that fills the Fringe – whilst not a mesmerising display of impressive and eye catching tricks, London is a skilled performer who slickly blends the tricks and sleights of card sharks with an enchanting narrative, offering an engaging, glamorous and impressive portrayal of the world of card cheats.

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Hannah Congdon

at 17:34 on 20th Aug 2016

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Despite the capitalised word ‘CHEAT’ with which Laura London brands her show, she proudly professes herself a magician, a differentiation that she returns to repeatedly across her 50 minutes on stage. Cleverly, this only confuses the cheat-magician boundary further; there is a knowing twinkle in her eye as she recalls the heroine of her story, Geraldine, the eccentric 1920s card-counter extraordinaire, whose personal diary London seems to treat as something of a card-trick Bible.

London re-enacts the guiles described in Geraldine’s diary, following her notes step-by-step, imagining herself as her wonderfully deceitful predecessor who charms and fools her audience at the card table, all the while insisting that she herself would not dream of performing such fraudulent behaviour. She frequently self-deprecates, completing mind-boggling card-tricks with a cheeky smile, before reminding us that Geraldine would surely have done it better and in half the time. London takes the audience on a journey through a rich heritage of magicians that precede Geraldine’s diary, affectionately relating their stories and personal interactions, and entrenching magic in human life and feeling, rather than simply performing the clichéd card-trick routines. That said, whilst her skill with cards is undeniably impressive, her narrating does at times veer into gushy sentimentalism and affectation, with recorded tunes on the piano emerging as background music right on queue for an emotional crescendo. It is touches like these that make us question the authenticity of London’s proposed story. On the one hand this might be seen as a failing, on the other it adds to our uncertainty of what to make of London herself. Having spent the entirety of the show denying her similarity to the cunning Geraldine, she has in many ways gone and followed the exact same rituals as her idol-cum-persona.

Luring her audience in with trickery, a little flirtation, and what could easily have been an entirely fictional narrative, she leaves us with a feeling of not quite knowing if we have been completely taken in. As London concludes with a mischievous grin, ‘’If you tell a great story well, you forget about the lie’’.

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