Sooty, Sweep and Soo are back on the road, taking their unique blend of magic and mischief to theatres across the UK, writes Lawrence Smith.
They will be performing Sooty’s Magic Show at Mansfield’s Palace Theatre on May 29.
Along for the ride is the gang’s TV pal Richard Cadell, the presenter and illusionist who is the current owner of the show.
He promises a production full of truly wonderful tricks, ones that aren’t just funny but downright mystifying, even for the adults in the audience.
“They’re being built by the same people that made David Copperfield’s illusions,” Richard says. “There’s going to be some big stuff including a flying pedal car with Sooty in it. We’re going to make it snow in the auditorium, we’re going to ‘saw’ a lady in half – loads of things.”
Sooty’s Magic Show also features circus star Michael Jordan and Fantasie de la Nuit.
“Michael Jordan is a speciality act,” Richard explains. “He does a fabulous plate spinning routine where he’s got 20 or 30 plates spinning at once as he’s juggling on a unicycle.”
“He’s got a lovely assistant too called Emma and he puts her into a box and kind of squeezes her away to nothing. It’s just mind-blowing.”
Meanwhile, Fantasie de la Nuit is a UV act. The lights will go out and glow-in-the-dark puppets will appear to do magic, including a giant Sooty and Sweep.
If he had to choose though, Richard would point to one illusion in the show as his favourite.
“I pick a child from the audience who’s allowed to ride in Sooty’s car,” he explains. “Then they get to meet Sooty who’s placed in the car with them. I’m nowhere near it but he’s still very much alive in the car and then the pedal car with the child...flies. It floats up in the air, and that for the audience is the big jaw-dropping moment.”
But for all this spectacle, Richard admits that sometimes it’s the simple moments that get the best response from the kids.
“Children like to laugh. They love it when a custard pie gets thrown in my face or when Sooty brings the water pistol out and soaks the audience. They love it when he’s naughty.”
Richard says that getting Sooty right is essential. After all, he’s been a fan of the yellow bear since childhood and is good friends with the previous presenter Matthew Corbett.
“What I remember was Sooty, Sweep and Soo in their band,” he says. “Soo playing the grand piano, Sooty on the drumkit, Sweep on the electric guitar.”
So naturally the second half opens with the gang playing their instruments.
“That’s the moment that always gets me,” says Richard. “That’s my memory of them, singing those songs, playing along with musical instruments...Sweep singing, which, of course, is horrendous, but that’s part of the whole charm of it.”
And Richard got to be part of the fun from a young age, appearing on the TV programme at 15 as Young Magician of the Year.
“I was invited to appear on it as part of the prize of winning,” he explains. “I did a simple magic trick with goldfish and cards, and it was 20 odd years later that Matthew was retiring and they didn’t want the show to finish. They wanted someone who could do magic to take over because they felt that would be a good key skill to presenting Sooty, and they remembered me and my love of the show.”
In short: he got the phone call, had some heavy screen tests, a bit of training, and then he was doing it. That was in 1998 and Richard bought the rights to Sooty in 2008.
So what was it like getting the job?
“When I first got it I cried and I continued to cry for some time,” Richard says, explaining how overwhelming it was to be such an important part of the show that had influenced his own life. The first time he saw a magic wand was probably when Sooty was holding one.
“I felt this huge responsibility because Matthew Corbett was an impossible act to follow. It was impossible. And I think it’s only now after 20 years that I can say ‘you know what, I think I’m just about qualified’.”
But Matthew loves what Richard is doing.
“We’re working on a movie at the minute,” Richard reveals. “A full-size cinematic feature and Matthew’s coming out of retirement to be in that movie. He’s got to be in it and he can’t wait to be in it. His days of Sooty are not over.”
And clearly, Sooty’s days of Sooty are not over either.
Created by Harry Corbett in 1948, Sooty celebrated his 70th birthday last year with a new series of The Sooty Show on ITVBe, as well as a big birthday party on Blackpool Pier. Then, in November, Sooty joined HRH Prince Charles, magicians and comedians at the London Palladium as part of ITV’s We Are Most Amused and Amazed – a 70th birthday celebration for Prince Charles in aid of The Prince’s Trust Charity.
Richard has his own theories on why the show has such an enduring appeal.
“It’s simplicity,” he says, pointing out that Sooty and Sweep are a classic double act, fitting into that beloved and familiar comedy tradition alongside Laurel and Hardy and Morcambe and Wise.
Richard also believes that this simplicity is effective in an ever-changing world of high-budget and over-produced content for families.
“You suddenly strip that back and you’ve got Sooty, Sweep and Soo – very simple,” he says. “And we’ve not meddled with it, we’ve not changed it.”
At its core, it’s the same show it’s always been.
“I think people are really assured by that. They want to bring their grandchildren to see what they saw and they’re happy that it hasn’t changed.”
Click here for more on the show at Mansfield’s Palace.
You can also click here for news of another show coming up at the venue.
Photo by Steve Ullathorne