Review: James Freedman’s Man of Steal

After a sell-out show at the Menier Chocolate Factory, James Freedman’s Man of Steal makes its West End debut for a strictly limited season at Trafalgar Studios. In many ways the show is a simple a one-act magic show, but Freedman deftly balances slight-of-hand tricks with entertaining stories from his past as a lifelong observer of pickpockets, muggers and thieves to create something truly unique.

Freedman excels as a showman. He manages to keep the entire, 400-strong audience captivated for the 90-or-so minutes of this intriguing and exciting show, which is no mean feat when the only other thing on stage for a large portion of the time is a tailor’s dummy and an electronic paper shredder.

He revels in sharing stories about his time in Paris watching fingersmiths, learning from his mentor, or the time he was beaten up as a kid and wished he could’ve been stronger or faster in order to beat the bullies. His hypnotic display of ‘practicing’ pickpocketing is nothing short of mesmerising.

Freeman also works well with his crowd (and the odd heckler), consistently able to switch from raconteur to prestidigitator in one fell swoop. As you might expect from a show of this nature, there’s a fairly large portion of audience participation too – though this shouldn’t put people off from attending; Freedman handles his interactions with unsuspecting audience members with aplomb, managing, in many ways, to make them the stars of the show.

Where Man of Steal differs from the usual fair of magic acts, conjurers and illusionists is the way Freeman roots everything he is doing onstage in the everyday. Instead of grandiose illusions, disappearing stagehands and mind-bending tricks (although there’s a fair bit of this to some degree as well), the show quickly becomes a lesson in how to avoid credit card fraud, identity theft and falling victim to hustlers. Without ever being preachy, it’s a captivating experience, and it’s reassuring to hear the collective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the audience as they too realise they’re just as likely to be a prime target for the cooks as you are. If nothing else, it makes you feel better about how stupid you’ve been.

The only issue with Man of Steal is that it very much benefits from being seen first-hand, so to write a review of it – one which invariably would include spoilers, highlights and hints about what you can expect – feels like you’re doing the show a disservice. Let’s leave it there then, only adding that the last trick of the night is worth the ticket price alone.

Showing until 4 July at Trafalgar Studios, get Man of Steal tickets from Ticketmaster.