One man shows always fascinate me. When experiencing these types of shows as a spectator, you feel obliged to return to a time when you were told stories by your parents. Theatre is an environment that perfectly houses this unique live experience, with performers perhaps transforming into hyper-real storytellers. This is certainly the case with Daniel Llewelyn-Williams’s one man show A Regular Little Houdini. After experiencing a mildly successful run at the Edinburgh fringe this year, the Welsh actor and writer is taking the piece on tour.
A Regular Little Houdini is set in the early 1900s in the Welsh city of Newport. We meet a young lad named Alan, who has a growing fascination and adoration for the work of famous escape artist Harry Houdini. For years Alan practises similar feats to his hero, only for his dreams to be seemingly dashed in the wake of a stunt gone wrong. After taking the time to heal, during which the Newport Dock Disaster occurs, Alan finally meets his hero in the wake of the tragic accident.
First thing’s first: credit must be given to Llewelyn-Williams for holding the narrative together and masterfully switching between characters to completely engage the audience. He displays some lovely characterisation throughout, bringing his audience face to face with characters from Alan’s heart-warming story – be it his dad; his grandad or even Houdini himself. You can’t help but feel drawn into Alan’s network of characters with a smile on your face, giving the piece plenty of charm overall.
In the play’s hour long running time, Llewelyn-Williams gets through a lot. The structure and narrative of the piece is intricately woven and dotted with well-timed releases of information and variations in pace. Despite the latter part of Alan’s story feeling a bit rushed – we race through years of his life in a few moments which is asymmetrical to the first half of the piece – everything generally meshes together nicely.
Where A Regular Little Houdini shines the brightest, however, is in its beautifully tender moments. Llewelyn-Williams taps into these moments, which include Alan’s recounting of the horrendous events of the Newport dock disaster and during his temporary incarceration in a bed of silt in the River Usk. The pace is perfectly measured in these instances, and the audience is enveloped in tense silence as we enjoy every word of the narrative unfolding before us.
Director Joshua Richards is a welcome collaborator in the act of creating Llewelyn-Williams’s play-world. His directorial vision for the piece is generally smooth and it serves its writer-performer well. However it is occasionally stunted by unwelcome drops in atmosphere that leave the space feeling slightly breathless. If each scene of A Regular Little Houdini contained an atmosphere as well-considered as those in the piece’s tenderer scenes, then the piece would be a true triumph of one-man showmanship.
In spite of this however, A Regular Little Houdini is a charming little show with a big heart. If you’re looking for something a bit different, with a relatively fun and engaging story, then this is the piece of theatre for you.
A Regular Little Houdini played at York Theatre Royal on September 27. It tours nationwide.