REVIEW: James Freedman – Man Of Steal, Trafalgar Studios 1 ✭✭✭✭

James Freedman - Man Of Steal at the Trafalgar Studios
James Freedman. Photo: Jeremiah Jones

James Freedman – Man Of Steal
Trafalgar Studios 1
29 May 2015

Whoever said that there’s no honour amongst thieves has clearly never met James Freedman. One of the world’s most skilled pickpockets, Freedman has vowed to use his skills for good rather than evil through making his audience aware of the dastardly tricks of the trade. Not only has he picked the pockets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (insert your own tax joke here), but he’s also served as a ‘pickpocket consultant’ on a number of major films. The trickster’s Man of Steal show recently finished its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but has now been given a fresh lease of life at the Trafalgar Studios with his jawdropping and educational act about the ‘gift of the grab’.

The night is much more than just watching a man steal things for 90 minutes – it’s a masterclass of memorising, misdirection and high quality showmanship. The audience were often left gasping and guessing as Freedman pulled off yet another scam on an unsuspecting audience member. It seemed like a bit of a stretch when Freedman discussed the “art of pickpocketing” (as opposed to mugging – too easy says James) however a lot of what was revealed during an information packed evening was fiendishly clever and scarily eye-opening. Apparently pickpockets hang around signs saying “Beware of Picketpockets” as people instinctively grab and reveal their valuables as they see it!

Carrying off a one man show is no mean feat; especially as by Freedman’s own admission he resembles an ‘accountant on his night off’ – the perfect attribute for a professional pickpocket. Despite this, he had a wonderful stage presence and an excellent rapport with the audience, whether he was mingling with them in the seats or bringing them up on stage. He managed to have audience members at ease and chuckling away even whilst he quietly pilfered their possessions, their dignity and even an item of their clothing. Freedman has a strong natural wit, with some well delivered gags and sharp ad-libs (His comment of “You know this is the press night right?” to a bumbling audience volunteer was a particular highlight). He successfully ramps up the tension throughout the show, with the drama building up to a finale which is certainly worth the wait.

The show is not an easy one to categorise. Freedman often seemed to channel the spirit of Derren Brown (who is apparently a big fan) as he dazzled with his sleight of hand, capacity to multitask and his terrifyingly good memory. However, there is also an element of theatre in a flashback sequence where he talks about a scarring and formative childhood moment which set him on the path to becoming a ‘good thief’. One of the few sequences which failed to hit the spot was even oddly balletic, as Freedman twirled around displaying his thieving skills to music. I actually would have liked to hear more about Freedman’s adult life; he’s clearly had a fascinating career, having shared his pickpocketing skills with Edward Norton, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ben Kingsley. A short section on what it’s like being a ‘thief to the stars’ could have added an additional element to the evening’s proceedings.

The challenge of staging a one man show is perhaps not one which kept director Edward Hilsum awake at night; however the simple set and spot lighting do the job perfectly well. The music, composed by Elliot Davis and Peter Weitz, helps to slowly build the atmosphere and the shredder which lurks menacingly at the back of the set is used to good effect. A minor point; there’s a screen at the back of the stage which could have been used more creatively; it only really comes into its own during the show’s brilliant finale.

It is always fantastic to see original theatre in London and Man of Steal certainly breaks new ground in putting on a public safety lecture with a difference. Freedman rightly received a warm reception from the crowd but perhaps the biggest compliment of all was the number of people checking and rearranging their pockets and bags as they left the Trafalgar Studios. Proof if it were needed that he really did steal the show.

James Freedman – Man Of Steal runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 4 July 2015.

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