"You can't sit there, for reasons of danger," warns Mat Ricardo as we enter the room. In truth, of course, we're completely safe in his hands – but there is something thrillingly risky about what we're about to witness. A quintessential showman and self-described "vaudeville schmuck", Ricardo's variety act is normally defined by faultless delivery and impeccable preparation; but this time around, he's knocked away those supports, and gives us instead a portrait of raw endeavour.
The concept's beguilingly simple. As Ricardo always stresses, his tricks aren't illusions – they're genuine displays of physical skill, each taking years of practice to hone. Yet at this time last year, he set himself an impossible-seeming task: to learn ten new tricks in the space of twelve months, inviting "the world" to set him challenges on Twitter.
We do get to see some juggling – the product of a lifetime's patient practice – and it's as spellbinding a whirl of movement as it always is. But it's the new tricks that form the heart of the show; and while they obviously don't have the layers of polish that ordinarily enrich Ricardo's work, they offer something equally enchanting. What we see here is a work in progress, a snapshot taken halfway along the road to perfection, and the glimpse of that journey enhances our respect for the times when Ricardo's reached his ultimate destination.
The new tricks are a pleasingly mixed bag, ranging from the impressive but low-key to the genuinely nerve-jangling. Unusual props come into play, and there are clever call-backs – threads woven through the routine which draw seemingly disparate stunts together. It's all accompanied by a humorous, sardonic, self-deprecating commentary, which both highlights the apparent folly of Ricardo's efforts and reveals an endearing love for his craft. Among the highlights, for me, are the pictures of iconic stunts from decades ago, which Ricardo inspects with an expert eye and describes "from one performer to another".
Some of the new tricks depend on a creative interpretation of the challenge he was set – the one involving golf is especially amusing – but although Ricardo takes liberties, it never feels like he's truly cheating. And if one or two of them might be carefully set up to look a bit more impressive than they really are… well, such is the privilege of the showman.
Which hints at the serious point Ricardo's building up to. Towards the end, the patter turns more introspective and personal; there is a lesson here for all of us, a moral Ricardo wants to share. It's a message that's both insightful and genuinely useful, and it emerges entirely naturally from the journey we've followed for most of the show. In a different context, dispensing this advice might seem trite or even patronising; here, it is a privilege earned.
We can't all juggle balls while changing our jacket or balance glassware on the end of our nose, but we can all – in our own particular way – take on the world. It's a beautifully upbeat note to end on, in a show which delivers both entertainment and inspiration… and that, I'd suggest, is the greatest trick of all.