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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2012 arrow Lie. Cheat. Steal. Confessions of a Real Hustler
 
Lie. Cheat. Steal. Confessions of a Real Hustler
Published on Thursday, 09 August 2012
3

3 stars

Zoo (venue website)
Comedy
3-18, 20-26 Aug, 8:00pm-8:50pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

If you’re among the hundreds of thousands of people who watch The Real Hustle on BBC3, you’ll instantly recognise Paul Wilson.  The self-proclaimed con-artist is the show’s unlikely star, pulling off a range of audacious hoaxes before explaining the warning signs we ought to recognise and avoid.  In this solo show, Wilson promises to develop that theme – revealing his “weapons of mass deception” and, excitingly, guaranteeing that someone in each audience is going to find themselves scammed.

Here’s the most important thing to say first – Paul Wilson isn’t really a con-artist, but he’s an entertaining and highly accomplished magician.  With little but a pack of cards and a bare table, he makes the implausible seem effortless, drawing gasps of astonishment when the card we were sure was an ace was turned over to reveal a queen.  He’s planned his act well for the size of the room – I sat at the back, but it felt like I was right there at the table – and his low-key banter is the ideal match for his physical skill.  It’s hugely impressive, and had the show been called A Masterclass In Cheating At Cards, it would triumphantly deliver what it says on the tin.

Trouble is, that’s not quite what the programme blurb suggested we were going to see.  If you’re expecting the multi-layered psychological scams which define The Real Hustle, you’ll leave disappointed; here, Wilson’s chicanery is based around dexterity rather than ingenuity.  If you’re not an existing fan of close-up magic, I suspect you’ll find parts of the act slow.  And overall, the theme of con-artisrty felt rather half-baked – an understandable attempt to play off Wilson’s celebrity, rather than a solid foundation for his routine.

One segment comes close to working, as Wilson demonstrates how an obviously-crooked game can still use fear and avarice to draw a victim in.  The psychology is nothing short of frightening – as Wilson points out, money makes fools of all of us – even though the trick itself, the shell game, may well be something you’ve seen before.  It’s a well-constructed routine, though it doesn’t quite achieve the tension Wilson seems to be aiming for; after all, it’s pretty obvious that he won’t really end the game with a hapless audience member hundreds of pounds in the red.

In fact, it was when he set aside his “hustling” theme that Wilson truly left me breathless.  An age-old trick involving a cork and three coins had no real connection to his topic, but I watched with enraptured wonder as the seemingly impossible took place before my eyes.  And disarmingly, returning to his trusty deck of cards, Wilson pretty much gives away how his opening tricks are done – yet even when he turned a few cards face up and told us what to look for, I still found it impossible to spot his sneaky move.

So, here’s the paradox.  Wilson’s pre-show publicity plays on his TV fame – but the act he delivers, far from being showbiz, is one for the connoisseur.  I’m anything but disappointed, but I am left with the sense of a promise unfulfilled, and I wish Wilson had simply pitched his show as what it really is.  After all, now I’ve seen him once, there’s no need for him to hustle me; he’ll relieve me of my cash at the box office, whenever he comes back to the Fringe.

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