Magic

Review: Nina Conti’s ‘In Your Face’ at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Clown performer Francesca Martello writes for us after taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe #CircusVoices residency to develop new critical languages for the circus sector, run by The Circus Diaries with support from the Roundhouse, the Network of Independent Critics, and Crying Out Loud…

The excitement was big.

I have seen Nina Conti on television many times, and was looking forward to see her perform live; working such a huge crowd.

I’m lucky enough to find a seat in the fourth row, just in front. As I sit, though, a thought crosses my mind; is there a specific reason nobody’s sitting here? Am I risking being picked out to get on stage?

The lady next to me chuckles and tells me to be careful if I don’t want to be picked. The atmosphere is bubbling with excitement… Like when you are 14 at your first parties, standing by the wall waiting to be asked to dance: you’re not really sure if you want to be asked to dance, but just the thought makes you happily anxious. This seems to be the sensation of the first 5-6 rows at a Nina Conti show.

The answer is obviously yes, I am at risk, but eventually the gentleman next to me gets the “pleasure/ torture” to step on stage. What a release… and what a shame!

For those of you who don’t know Nina’s work, I’ll try to give a brief explanation of her craft. This comedian explores the old technique of ventriloquism that, basically, works thanks to our survival mechanism of always wanting to make sense; finding the familiar, the reconisable in the world.

The name comes from the Latin, meaning to speak from the stomach: venter (belly) and loqui (speak). The noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the unliving, who took up residence in the stomach of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist would then interpret the sounds, and they were thought to be able to speak to the dead, as well as foretell the future.

In the Middle ages, as with most inexplicable things, the technique was thought to be similar to witchcraft. The shift from ventriloquism as manifestation of spiritual forces toward ventriloquism as entertainment happened in the eighteenth century at the travelling funfairs and market towns. Ventriloquism became more of a performance art.

Scientifically speaking, the craft is a part of a series of studies in multi-sensory integration – the study of how information from the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion and taste, may be interpreted through the nervous system.

A coherent representation of objects that combines the senses’ input enables us to have meaningful perceptual experiences. Indeed, multi-sensory integration is central to adaptive behaviour because it allows us to perceive a world of coherent perceptual entities. But at the same time it still has a bit of mystic sensation to it; Nina is the complete creator and manipulator of the world that surrounds her.

Ventriloquism describes the situation in which perceptions normally based on hearing cues are shifted towards visual ones, and Nina’s technique is brilliant. At the same time, her humanity as well, since she is not working just with her monkey puppet companion, but with living people from the audience.

Through specially designed and made half-masks that cover the bottom part of the volunteer face, Nina Conti manages to transform people, randomly picked, into collaborative puppets. The effect is hysterical.

And she is a great host, always attentive to the volunteers and ready to find the comic side of situations. Her timing is excellent and she seems to have such fun that you often forget what she is really doing – she is another one of us (just with a bit more control). Down to earth, she is like the funny, fit auntie that some of us might have had.

Nina Conti uses the technique that was once used to speak to the Gods to speak to the people. Brilliant!

In Your Face. Performed by Nina Conti. Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ. 20:00. Until 29 August. SOLD OUT http://www.ninaconti.net


#EdFringe Interview With Laura London: “Magic Wasn’t Considered A Woman’s Job For A Long Time”

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Instantly recognisable by her flame-coloured hairdo, magician Laura London has been a staple on the capital’s cabaret scene for a number of years. This August, she has taken her debut one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time.

At the Voodoo Rooms until 28 August, Cheat explores the real-life world of card-shark, gambler and sleight-of-hand artist Geraldine Hartmann in 1919 through her diary entries. Whiskey, love and money all play a part in this tale but the real reveal is London giving the lowdown on the magic she performs. Audiences will be let into the secrets of how the hustlers of Hartmann’s day made their money from mystified marks.

We spoke to Laura about her show and why, as an industry, magic has so few high profile female proponents.


I’ve seen you doing close-up magic for a number of years now. Where does your fascination for this branch of magic come from?

For the last 15 years I have worked as a magician. But four years ago I took the decision to focus mainly on sleight of hand card magic.

It always fascinated me and was my favourite kind of magic to watch, practice and perform. There’s something aesthetically pleasing about a deck of playing cards; I love that something so small can create such wonder.

 

Me and you both, though I suspect we may be talking about different things. What was the impetus behind the new show? Did it stem from a Eureka moment or is it something that has coalesced over time?

I first had the idea to write Cheat three years ago when I discovered my family had a bit of a dark side. In the 1920s, my family were publicans from Birmingham into illegal gaming, horses as well as card games. Through this, I discovered some very interesting people. The show is inspired by one of those discoveries.

 

You’re well known for your flaming red hairdo. What inspired that look?  

Strangely, my image is a toned down version of my former self. As a teenager I was a bit of a punk, always having crazy hairdos and a rather odd fashion sense. I wanted to be taken seriously so I changed my style a little, but kept the red hair so that I still felt like myself.

 

“Magic wasn’t considered a woman’s job for a long time.”

 

Magic is one of the few entertainment genres which still lacks a strong female presence at the top. Why do you think that is? Is it institutional or down to the available talent?

We have had some incredibly talented female magicians through the years. Like Mercedes Talma who was very well known in the early 1900s and was dubbed ‘The Queen of Coins’ for her sleight of hand skill and her ability to produce coins from thin air.  It is true though that none have really hit the big time in more recent generations.

I wouldn’t say it’s a lack of talent though. I would say it has more to do with the fact that magic wasn’t considered a woman’s job for a long time, but now that’s changing as more and more young girls are considering magic as a real career.

 

Magic is increasingly a team sport (Impossible, The Illusionists, Killer Magic, Now You See Me etc). Do you think the era of headline name magicians like David Copperfield, Paul Daniels and David Blaine has come to an end or is it a cyclical thing?

I think magic is as strong as it ever was. It’s true that these shows aren’t creating or focusing on one talent but I believe there will always be someone that shines through on their own. Dynamo and Troy are very well known here in the UK but they certainly won’t be the last we discover.

 

“I think magic needs to be shaken up a little.”

 

Every genre goes through a phase of being seen as niche then going mainstream before retreating to niche status again (for example, see drag before and after RuPaul’s Drag Race took off). Where do you think magic is now?

I think magic needs to be shaken up a little. There’s too many shows with wonderful backdrops and flashy props but have little continuity or substance.

I would love to see more shows like Derren Brown’s. He uses his skill to say something and make us think. The public are as interested in how things work and the story than they are in just being fooled. 

 

Cards must be some of the most difficult theatrical props around, being hard to see from a distance and harder to distinguish and engage with meaningfully. How do you get around this with your show?

I will be telling a story about a female card cheat from the 1920s, demonstrating the techniques she used and shared in her personal journal. I have worked hard on the presentation so that all those demonstrations can be seen clearly. Spectators will also be invited to join me on stage and watch up close and personal.

 

Final question: if magic hadn’t been a viable career for you, what would you have done?

Had I not been a magician, I’d most likely have ended up in prison.

 

Laura London’s Cheat can be seen at Voodoo Rooms until 28 August. For timings and ticket information, see the official Edinburgh Fringe Festival website listing

Image: James Millar

Interview: Asher Treleaven Is Bringing Magic To The London Wonderground

Peter & Bambi Heaven's The Magic Inside (Asher Treleaven and Gypsy Wood)Read more

Can real-life performing couple Peter & Bambi Heaven keep the magic happening both on and off stage? That’s the question at the heart of their new show The Magic Inside which makes its UK debut this summer at the London Wonderground. This is what it looks like.

Playing these conjurers from Down Under are two faces that have already seen action on the South Bank. Comedian Asher Treleaven appeared there last year as La Soirée’s  “sexual gentleman” while burlesquer Gypsy Wood was a highlight of EastEnd Cabaret’s Club Perverts. As they prepare for their London run, we spoke to Asher about this latest venture.


The last time we remember seeing you two together was in 2011 with your Comic Strip show. What’s the impetus behind this new joint show?

We decided to try and make a new show together for the 2015 Perth Fringe, we didn’t know what form it would take but we were both ready for something new. We’d put Comic Strip to bed, I was feeling pretty disenchanted with the stand up comedy scene and Gypsy wanted to break out of burlesque. So when she came to me with the suggestion making some new work, I was cautious but she won me over eventually.

 

What’s behind names you’ve chosen for your characters? Do they have any special significance?

The names of the characters and show are taken at random.  There’s no connection with an actual Peter and Bambi. Having said that, some of the characterisation is taken from people I met on the cruise ship circuit.

 

You’ve described yourself as a “circus school dropout”. What happened there and how did you transition into stand-up comedy?

I was kicked out of High School drama in year eight so I’ve always seen myself as a bit rebellious, although I’m sure my circus school instructors would’ve thought me a massive pain in the ass.

I graduated from NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) in 2001 and naively thought Cirque Du Soleil would be waiting to snap me up. My career as a circus performer failed to flourish so I moved onto street performing to make an income.

I was introduced to stand up while living in London back in 2004 and found a home in the weird world of Robin Ince’s Book club, where I flourished.

 

“We have a very complex relationship.”

 

 

The cabaret circuit has more than a few stories of couples who worked together on stage and, for various reasons, are no longer together. Some, like the Skating Willers, performed as a duo even after they divorced. How much has working together changed the dynamic of your relationship? 

It’s a hard question to answer, because we have a very complex relationship.

I don’t think performing together changed our relationship a lot, but it certainly put pressure on it. I’m really looking forward to working with Gypsy for the foreseeable future, she’s a fantastic performer who’s just starting to stretch her comedic muscles and I think we’re going to do great things together.

Our breakup was very amicable, we just came to the end of our romance but we’re still family and we love each other a lot.

 

Many still remember your stint with La Soirée, especially your roof-raising cry of “Slaaaaaaade!” What are your most enduring memories from working on that show?

There are so many prize memories from that show, being part of the cast that won the 2015 Olivier Award, performing on the Southbank and getting regular standing ovations continually amazes me.

La Soirée is the first company I’ve worked for and ironically the two acts I do in the show I premiered back in 2001 when La Soirée was a club night in the Famous Spiegel Tent called Club Swizzle. I’ve always been part of that big queer carny family and its so great to be a regular cast member at the moment.

 

“I always think my best show is ahead of me.”

 

What’s your take on critics? Some artists tend to regard them as parasites on real creativity and ask what gives them the right to pronounce on their show; others say that the critic’s job is to step in to protect the audience from the marketing machines and help level the playing field for artists. Do either of those views ring true? 

Performers whine when they get bad press. Sometimes they’re justified and sometimes they’re not. It’s no surprise to anyone on the Festival circuit when Bruce the local fishing correspondent shows up at your show and gives you a shitty review. However, if Bruce loves your show it doesn’t matter if he’s a pro or not: you’ve got four plus stars to splash on posters and that’s a win.

I’m not trying to demean the role, artists need critics and vice versa. I think the role is important and should be approached with respect and diligence but when there’s anywhere up to 3,000 shows a night at the Edinburgh Fringe, sometimes it’s a role of the dice.

 

You written at length about your experiences at the Fringe and spoke once about it being a “compulsion”. Other than the opportunity for greater fame and glory, what drags you back to the Fringe year after year? Will you be up there again this summer?

Making shows for the Fringe circuit here in Australia is one of my main sources of income and it’s also my primary source of creativity. I make a lot of new work for the Festival circuit, which is really important for my employment opportunities and my development as a performer.

I am a big believer in creating a lot of work, rather than trying to create a paragon, which is almost certainly doomed to fail. I’m an extreme optimist and I always think my best show is ahead of me.

Peter & Bambi Heaven’s The Magic Inside will be at the London Wonderground on 1 and 2 June. Tickets are £12 (including £1 booking fee). See the London Wonderground website for more information.

 

Banned By TfL, Interviewed by TIC: Meet The Master Of The Macabre

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Opening tonight, one-man magic show Master Of The Macabre already scored a controversial note of notoriety when Transport for London refused to allow their official poster (above) to be shown on the Underground; whether the overt horror of a bloody eyeball is more offensive than the implied horror of any poster suggesting Adam Sandler is alive and well and still making movies is debatable.

If magician Benedict Barber was aiming for a mordant atmosphere, he could not have found a  venue than The Vaults. The latter-day neighbour to the epochal Old Vic Tunnels is a collection of subterranean cave-like spaces beneath Waterloo station and the occasional rumble of trains overhead gives some insight into what it could feel like to be buried alive while others carry on above and oblivious.

In Master of the Macabre, he takes the audience on a dark autobiographical journey. It begins with his introduction to magic at the age of just five, goes through the trickery he used at school to alarm his fellow pupils and terrorise his teachers to a shocking experience as a young adult that has shaped his life both on and off the stage.  We spoke to him about his latest show.

 

That’s one seriously gory image you chose for your poster. What was the creative thinking behind it? 

It captures some of the feeling of the show in a way that is not immediately obvious. It will make sense when you see the production.

 

Every artist pictures “horror” in a different way. How did you come to your own definition – did you delve into childhood memories or was it more about how other artists have interpreted horror e.g. on film or in shows?

A combo of the two. I studied everyone from Christopher Lee to the joker in the Dark Knight. Other psychotic roles that I studied include Anthony Hopkin’s work as Hannibal Lecter, Hitchcock films per se and the writings of Stephen King.

My own definition of horror is somewhat like Hitchcock. In many ways it is far scarier to let your own mind manipulate the stimuli and create its own picture than you providing the stark image.

This leads me back to the poster, the image, horrific as it is, actually refers to a lighter moment in the show while the beheading at the start of the show is from a recurring dream of childhood.

 

How would you characterise your type of magic? Are you more about the sleight of hand like Master Of The Macabre‘s director Tony Middleton? How do you think you distinguish yourself from other young magicians?

I have a totally unique style. My version of horror is semi autobiographical as I have truly experienced some horrific things in my past. I love to treat my audience with respect, to look after them and to provide whilst at the same time terrorising them in places. I love sleight of hand and manipulation of the human mind.

My style is charismatic, charming yet people know that my story has disturbing elements to it. I reveal a little more about my past as the show progresses but it shapes my material in that I had a horrific experience (a car crash) that has changed the way I view the world and shapes the form of the material I choose to demonstrate.

 

Which magicians inspired you? And where would you like your career to ultimately take you – big Vegas shows, a series of one-off stunts like David Blaine, a TV career like Dynamo or creating a character like Piff The Magic Dragon?

I am only interested in performers who can perform live. Some people make a living out of tv tricks / camera cutaways etc this is not how I define magic. It is akin to putting Superman against a green screen and then telling people he can really fly. For me it is all about the live connection with the audience.

I like Piff very much, I do like comedy and artists completely unlike myself, and Blaine’s last special was exceptional. The greatest ever was the secret cabaret 20 years ago with Simon Drake.

Catch Master Of The Macabre at the Vaults until 1 November. Tickets are £15.00-29.50. Performances: Tues-Sun 7.30pm & Sat mat at 2.30pm. More information can be found on the official Vaults website.

You’ll Like This A Lot: The Most Magical Proposal Ever

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When award-winning magician and mentalist Neil Henry decided to propose to his girlfriend Charlie Gardner as part of one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows, did he:

(a) go down on one knee, put on his best puppy eyes and pop the question?

(b) hide the ring at the bottom of a champagne glass and hope she wouldn’t swallow the damn thing?

(c) rope his beloved into helping him perform some brilliant piece of on-stage magic involving alphabet soup?

The clue’s in the question; if you plumped for (a) and (b), then we predict some very dull proposals in your future which, considering your lack of imagination, may be just as well.

This video reveals all…

Want to see some more outrageously sweet cabaret proposal action? Here’s how Desmond O’Connor proposed to his girlfriend earlier this month.

You can congratulate Neil on both his good news and his technique at one of his upcoming gigs.

How To Be A Guerilla Magician

Young and Strange video-bomb SKy NewsRead more

“Pick a card. Any card. Look at it. Remember what it says. Don’t tell me what it is. It says ‘when did magic become safe and boring?’. Am I right?”

Magic is not safe and boring, at least not in the right hands. Our shores boasts some mighty fine magicians not least Vegas favourite Piff The Magic Dragon, the “British Houdini” Alan Alan and Simon Drake of Channel 4 show The Secret Cabaret fame.

Vying to join their number through a cheeky video-bombing stunt is the duo Young & Strange. They have failed to fool Penn & Teller but they certainly mystified Sky News viewers this week with their impromptu magic display. Feel free to roll your own gags about politicians and disappearing acts while watching this.

Read more about Young & Strange on their website.

Mimetic Festival 2014 Announces Cabaret Awards Winners

The Ruby Darlings at the Edinburgh Fringe until 24 AugustRead more
The Ruby Darlings are the winners of the first This Is Cabaret Award For Best Newcomer.
The Ruby Darlings are the winners of the first This Is Cabaret Award For Best Newcomer.

Held in the Vaults under Waterloo station, this year’s Mimetic Festival has seen an eclectic collection of shows spread out over a fortnight. Ex-London Cabaret Award judge Klare Wilkinson and This Is Cabaret’s Franco Milazzo saw over twenty shows covering burlesque, drag, musical comedy, magic, puppetry and songbook before deciding on who would walk away with the festival’s six cabaret awards.

On Saturday night, the pair announced the winners of the prizes for best production overall as well as the This Is Cabaret Best Newcomer award for best new talent seen at the festival. There were also four special judges’ awards. Here is the full list.

Best Cabaret Production: Lady Carol’s Lost And Found

This Is Cabaret Award For Best Newcomer: The Ruby Darlings Show

Judges Awards: The Late Night Shop Presents: “A Load Of Crêpe” , Anna Lou’s Contes D’Amour, Baby Lame: Don’t Call It A Comeback and Neil Henry’s Impossible.

The Mimetic Festival will return in 2015.

Fringe Review: Ben Hart, Vanishing Boy

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Ben Hart is as clever as he is cute – and he is very cute, with his bright eyes and cheeky sideways smile.  As a magician, he is a dextrous prestidigitator, adept at misdirection, presenting his illusions with a sense of childlike wonder, rightfully proud of his own achievements.  As a performer, he is charismatic and at ease with his engagement of a crowd.  As a storyteller, he manages to weave another kind of magic, transporting us to a strange nether-realm set somewhere between Victorian England and the contemporary world.

Ben Hart soho portrait-3

The script has been written as a collaboration with Al Joshua, and is both funny and lyrical, neatly tying in almost-lost ends and recurring props.  Neither the writing, nor Hart’s performance of it, ever underestimate our intelligence or humour and there’s a philosophy there too.  Hart responds quick-wittedly to audience reactions, allowing his boyish charm to shine through.  Underneath the upright and gentlemanly conduct lies the juvenile humour we all carry within us, and the little bedroom gags never go amiss.

When the dark tartan blazer comes off we see the elegant flower tattoo that seems to sum him up perfectly: part poet, part romantic, but still part lad’s lad.

Some of the illusions are Hart’s own creations, others staples of the close-up-magician arsenal.  At times I know where to look for the execution, but this never destroys the mood for me. At other times I’m as bamboozled as the next man.  Most times I’m so caught up in the world he has conjured that I forget to think about the technical process.  It’s no surprise to me when I find Hart was nominated for a TO&ST cabaret award last year for his previous work.

It’s in the nature of a magic show that people will come out discussing how the tricks were achieved. Where Hart’s real skilled misdirection lies, is in making us believe the story is there to frame his illusions, rather his sleight of hand a vessel to communicate some universal truths.

Unexpectedly, I leave feeling quite shaken. Reeling from this final prestige.\

Vanishing Boy. Presented by Ben Hart. Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1EG .£8.50-10.50. 16:40 1-24 August. http://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/ben-hart-the-vanishing-boy

Obituary: Alan Alan, “The British Houdini”

The escapologist and magician Alan Alan in his Holborn shop.Read more
The escapologist and magician Alan Alan in his Holborn shop.
The escapologist and magician Alan Alan in his Holborn shop.

Very few performers around the world can respectfully be spoken of in the same sentence as American escapologist Harry Houdini. Born a month after the maestro died, the London-born Alan Alan who died this weekend is one of them.

A measure of his skill and luck is Alan’s longevity, dying as he did at the age of 87. This is something of a minor miracle considering how his career came to public attention in 1949. Aiming to reproduce one of Houdini’s most notorious escapes for Pathe News, Alan was bound and then “buried alive” in a grave. As a recent TV tribute shows, his enthusiastic helpers packed the earth over him too tightly and Alan had to be frantically dug out.

From this small failure, many successes followed. Although he was a skilled close-up magician, Alan was unafraid of grand-scale performances. Again filmed by Pathe News, one of his own creations saw him go one better than his inspiration. Another famous Houdini routine saw him escape while bound in a straitjacket and hung upside down from a rope. Alan added his own touches by dousing the rope in petrol and having it attached it to a crane before the rope was set on fire. On one occasion, the rope snapped and he fell to the floor.

If you think Johnny Cash has the monopoly on noteworthy prison gigs, think again. In 1959, Alan entertained a “captive” audience at London’s Wormwood Scrubs jail. To the likely delight of the lags there (and perhaps less so their guards), the magician demonstrated how to escape from handcuffs, how to wriggle out from chains and ropes and how to get out of any type of knot.

In later life, Alan opened up his own magic store. Situated in Southampton Row in Holborn, London, it attracted magic fans from around the world until it closed in the mid-1990s. Michael Palin popped in almost thirty years ago and recorded the event in his diaries.

Monday December 31st 1984 

I stopped at Alan Alan’s Magic Shop in Southampton Row, where I was served by a small, neat, be-suited gentleman with an arrow through his head. Quickly and efficiently he demonstrated an extraordinary variety of bangs, squirts, farts and electric shocks as if he were selling nothing more exciting than a coal scuttle. Little children watched in awe as their fathers idly toyed with a pack of sexy playing cards only to receive a sharp electric shock from the pack.”

When not demonstrating and selling tricks or being brusque with tourists, he coached a new generation of magicians. Among them was three-time winner of the Magic Circle’s Close-Up Magician Of The Year, Michael Vincent. Before his mentor passed away, Vincent paid the following tribute to him.

“There really hasn’t been an escapologist with a flair for the dramatics like Houdini other than Alan. In some cases, I think Alan had the edge. Why? Because of television. Houdini had great self-promotion and Alan was identical. In the context of showbusiness, I think he is one of the greatest entertainers and speciality acts of all time.”

Alan was never long out of the limelight, though. In 1979, he appeared on The Magic of David Copperfield where he was fittingly billed as “The British Houdini”. On the show, Copperfield described Alan as “my guest and my friend…someone I’ve idolised since I was a boy”. Here he is on the show performing his signature burning rope routine. (Apologies for the cheesy voiceover.)

More recently, he starred on Simon Drake‘s Channel 4 show The Secret Cabaret. Drake has written his own touching tribute to a man he knew for more than four decades.

Our dear friend Alan Alan passed away last night. I knew him for over 40 years and he was not just a truly great and innovative performer but also a valuable teacher in the craft of magic and a generous, kind man. Along with the other professional magicians pictured below I benefitted greatly from Alan’s constructive critiques. He knew and passed on to us lucky few the old ‘rules’ of stagecraft; timing, beats, pointing and much more that most young bucks have no clue about these days.

“He described those unfortunates as ‘nonentities’ who would just buy a trick and go out and perform it the next day. A fortunate handful of us who listened, owe him a great deal of thanks, love and respect. I am feeling especially sad for and send warmest wishes to Mike Vincent who was like a son to him. Alan patiently coached Michael from a lad to become one of the greatest sleight of hand practitioners on the planet. I also feel a sense of relief that he is now free and at peace having painfully and most frustratingly for him waited for ‘the ferryman’ for a long time.

So long dear fellow ….until we meet again. “

Image (c) Mike Remington

Conjuring At The Court Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary

Thom PetersonRead more
Stephen Barry, co-producer of West London's Conjuring At The Court
Stephen Barry, co-producer of West London’s Conjuring At The Court

Corny jokes, slick tricks and even free slices of cake are the order of the day at the jam packed 5th birthday of the magic showcase Conjuring At The Court. Whilst some segments of the night can be ever so slightly hit and miss, the sheer number and variety of acts on offer soon makes up for these moments and on the whole provides an evening that is a great night out.

Held at the end of every month at the Drayton Court Hotel near West Ealing, Conjuring At The Court takes a different selection of magicians and illusionists from across the country each time and gives them a slot to perform in. You might find yourself at one moment amused by an old fashioned sleight of hand card trick, then in the next  amazed by a baffling “how did they do that?” mind reading performance – all within the space of one evening’s entertainment.

This year’s fifth birthday celebrations for CATC were no different, starting off with the dry wit of American Thom Peterson and his superb illusions, such as making a drawing of a spoon appear to change shape before our very eyes (move over Uri Geller). If some of his comments seemed a little acerbic and off colour then they were nothing compared to the final act, the rather deliciously catty Mel Mellers, whose magic act at times seemed to come almost second to insulting the audience (and more than likely distracting them from his tricks at the same time). Indeed, comedy runs high throughout the night and occasionally becomes slightly unsuitable for the younger ears of the audience, although it’s certainly lapped up by the majority of the crowd.

Stephen Barry dutifully compères between acts and brings a relaxed warmth to proceedings – his jokes aren’t always as sharp as his fellow magicians but his beaming smile helps keeps things jovial. The setting itself in the basement of the Drayton takes you to a much more intimate and ring side seat kind of magic than we’re now used to seeing from TV’s glitzier offerings like Penn and Teller. Indeed there’s not much in the way of lighting or special effects throughout the evening at all, simply rows of audience seats and a small stage area with dressing screens either side.

However, that’s perhaps the very point of CATC – a night that is all about celebrating magic in its purest form, rather than creating some sexed up faux Broadway performance. Every evening offers the chance to see hard working performers plying their art for the simple reward of entertaining; some big, some small, some old, some new, but all doing their best to shock and awe, and many of them succeeding.

Conjuring At The Court. Hosted by Stephen Barry and Russell Levinson.  Drayton Court Hotel. West Ealing, London W13 8PH. Last Thursday of every month, 20:00. £10. http://www.conjuringatthecourt.com/