'James Freedman: Man of Steal' transfers to Trafalgar Studios from May 2015. This review is of the show's run at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Hold on to the Crown Jewels – pickpocket extraordinaire and ‘honest thief’ James Freedman is in London, and nothing is safe. In one short hour, he opens up the world of professional filching and demonstrates how easy it is for a con-artist to leave us with nothing.
It’s an enlightening, if contrived show, where Freedman stands centre stage, dressed in a nondescript suit and flanked by two small, tongue-in-cheek signs saying ‘beware of pickpockets’. More a fun lecture than a play, Freedman shows us his sneaky sleight-of-hand tricks with the help of a host of unwitting volunteers. Thieves ‘eye the poke’, he tells us, and suggests that we keep our wallets out of our ‘mug’s pocket’ (back of trousers) before giving us a crash course in credit card fraud.
It’s all delivered with a broad smile and wit – Freedman is likeable, clearly authentic, and his demonstrations are impressive. At one point he steals the glasses from an audience member’s head, and the tie from another’s neck. We were asked not to give spoilers, and I won’t, but by the end I’ll guarantee that you’ll be resolving to change everything about where you keep your bank cards, PIN numbers and passwords.
Freedman created the show, he says, to teach us about how to look after our stuff. But what’s missing here is how and where this sticky-fingered master learnt his trade. Perhaps this was excluded because the truth is a bit boring: Freedman doesn’t come across as a reformed tea-leaf, more a geekily obsessive crime-solver. But a little more insight might have fleshed out our sense of how on earth this man came to know so much about how to rip us off.
Ultimately though, Freedman’s show is old school entertainment. It won’t steal your heart, but a ticket certainly isn’t daylight robbery.