In the packed modern field of magic acts, Pete Firman certainly stands out. He’s recently appeared on the legendary stage of The London Palladium, handled some props that belonged to his comedy-magic hero in ITV documentary Tommy Cooper
Forever, and even exercised his vocal cords during a song and dance routine for Comic Relief. Is there no end to the man’s talents?
With his latest live show, Marvels, Pete will promise one thing: he’s not going to be hammering nails or threading needles into his body.
‘I used to enjoy doing those things and I’ve got a soft spot for that kind of material as it would always guarantee a reaction. You can’t watch someone hitting a nail into their face passively. You’re definitely engaged whether it be disgusted or entranced.’
For the best part of two decades, Pete Firman has certainly been engaging audiences with his brand of magic and comedy with one-word live shows such as Hokum, Hoodwinker, Scoundrel and Trickster, as well as TV appearances on the likes of Channel 5’s Monkey Magic, BBC’s The Magicians and ITV’s Tonight at the London Palladium. He’s also published a best-selling book, Tricks To Freak Out Your Friends.
With Marvels, he’s aiming to amaze and enthral crowds across the country with an artform which never ceases to captivate despite its age.
‘What does magic mean in 2018?’ Pete wonders. ‘100 years ago, magicians were rock ‘n’ roll stars but there’s not a lot that’s left undiscovered in the world now. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the magic show is a popular form of entertainment because it’s a rarity for an audience to be bamboozled. I wouldn’t say that Google has ruined magic but if someone is persistent enough they could probably find out how a trick works. These are the kind of things that a 21st century magician has to deal with.’
While he admits to not venturing out of an evening to see a great deal of live magic, when he does drop in on a show, he always takes his seat with an open mind. ‘I still like seeing a good magic trick and I do get fooled now and then. It’s nice to have that feeling of being deceived because it doesn’t happen so much especially the longer you’re in the game. But it’s that sensation that got me hooked in the first place.’
While David Blaine might avoid any elements of comedy in his act, most modern magicians realise that a well-delivered spot of banter goes down well with an audience already reeling from being astonished. Pete acknowledges that a master such as Tommy Cooper could never be emulated, but that shouldn’t stop him from inserting some good gags into his show.
‘I’m trying to do good tricks and make it as funny as I can. I’m not doing a trick and then doing five minutes of stand-up about aeroplane food; the jokes are interwoven and integrated into whatever it is that I’m doing. You can get a lot of mileage out of that trope of borrowing a gentleman’s watch and smashing it up but where it ends up right in the end. Not only is that a good trick, it’s a funny situation that you can create with someone.’
Should you find yourself up on stage during the show, don’t worry about your timepiece not making it back home with you, and please don’t be offended if he can’t keep hold of your name in his head. He has a lot going on in there during showtime.
‘I have a terrible memory. My biggest faux pas in performing is forgetting people’s names and it’s really the worst thing that you can forget because people do take umbrage when you call a “Barry” “Garry” or something like that. Doing magic is a little bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly – you’re doing different things at different times and I just have a problem with remembering names.’
Fortunately, Pete won’t have to worry too much about forgetting where he’s going on tour when he takes Marvels across the UK.
‘There’s a lot of driving and a lot of travelling involved, but luckily I have a tour manager with me, so he does the driving and I can have a kip. Touring is tiring but it’s nice in that each day is different; you can get different challenges from the venues because they’re not all the same. Some are theatre-theatres, some are arts centres, some are multi-purpose venues, so there’s a challenge when you arrive on the day and you have to tweak things slightly.’
Not that this sort of thing is ever likely to put an experienced performer like Pet on edge. Indeed he agrees that an overly anxious magician is likely to be a not-very-good magician.
‘You want a certain level of nervousness because that gets you up and gets you going. If you didn’t have that it would mean you’re not bothered and you should probably stop doing it. I did something at The London Palladium last year which was a big deal for me because of that venue and because you think “wow, The Beatles and Judy Garland and anyone who’s been anyone has been on that stage” and you can just feel it in the room. So stuff like that I maybe work myself up over but I’m not locking myself in the dressing room or vomiting or anything like that. The last thing you want as a magician is to get the shakes.’
As his loyal fanbase continues to carry him through, he hopes to pick up some new followers with his Marvels tour, even if they come in through the side entrance.
‘There was actually a conversation had about whether some comics fans might come along by accident. But we thought it would probably be alright, and if we sold a few extra tickets because of the Marvel universe, then is that a bad thing?’
BY BRIAN DONALDSON
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Sunday, October 14