Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Impossible, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Alison Kerr
The relationship between two of the 20th Century’s earliest celebrities comes under the microscope in this intriguing, enjoyable but ultimately not wholly satisfying drama. By the 1920s, Edinburgh-born writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not only known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes; he was also a leading light in the spiritualist movement, which had gained momentum following the devastating loss of life during the First World War.
When he met the internationally renowned escapologist and magician Harry Houdini, he set about trying to convince him that it was possible to commune with the spirits of the dead and felt sure that if anyone could transcend the divide between the world of the living and that of the dead, it would be the apparently super-human showman. However, as much as Houdini wanted to believe it was possible, he just couldn’t be persuaded that any medium he came across – including Doyle’s own wife – wasn’t a fake, exploiting the grief of others or, in her case, in denial about the loss of her own son.
As Houdini became more zealous in his quest to expose spiritualism as a sham, Doyle called time on the friendship.
The story of the rise and fall of the impossible Houdini-Doyle relationship is compellingly – though rather superficially – told and with terrific style, with great use made of film footage, including from the early stop-motion movie The Lost World, based on Conan Doyle’s book.
As the charismatic and irrepressible Houdini, Alan Cox is superb, bouncing onstage with the flamboyance that was undoubtedly innate in the showman he portrays. As the rather dour and very stubborn Conan Doyle, Phil Jupitus is less persuasive, with a dodgy Scots/southern English accent and a slightly pantomimey presence. Milly Thomas, as Bess Houdini, impresses throughout.
Pleasance Dome (venue 23), until 31 August, 1:20pm / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 20 August 2015
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