“Beware of pickpockets” warns an ominous sign, hanging in pride of place on the Voodoo Rooms stage. But there is – we hope – only one pickpocket in the house today: the self-confessed master thief James Freedman, who promises to lift watches and wallets from willing victims in front of several dozen pairs of staring eyes. It’s an intriguing idea, but can you really flesh it out to a 50-minute show? Well yes, to my surprise, it turns out that you can.
It helps that Freedman is the kind of guy you’d gladly listen to all day. Right from his attention-grabbing opening, he combines a quiet authority with an easy, instantly-likeable charm. It’s plain that he’s accustomed to the stage, but he shares his applause generously with his audience volunteers – surprisingly many of whom are genuinely eager to have valuables abstracted from their person. And just in case you’re wondering, everything he takes is safely returned, and at no point is anybody’s dignity even slightly impugned.
Freedman extracts a remarkable amount of variety from his central theme, ranging from an almost-balletic sequence plundering a mannequin to some hilariously cheeky subterfuge behind a hapless victim’s back. He uses both physical skill and psychological deception – perhaps more of the latter than he quite lets on – but however his act really works, there’s no disputing that it’s endlessly surprising and consistently entertaining.
It’s entertainment with a purpose, too. An advisor to numerous police forces, Freedman’s show is peppered with explanations of just how pickpockets and related con-artists target their prey. In the process, he shares a handful of priceless hints – simple ways to protect yourself against a thief with nimble fingers, or those who seek to steal from you using more technological means. Some of them are obvious, but most are rather less so. I, for one, am certainly never going to keep my driving licence with my credit cards again.
It all comes together in a jaw-dropping finale… but that particular surprise is something it would be genuinely criminal to spoil. So there’s no need, it turns out, for Freedman to pick our pockets: his charismatic brand of chicanery has more than enough value of its own.