Like an avant-garde play, the show began in the theatre foyer, but the purring patter simultaneously emerging from half a dozen performers might have been heard in the Victorian music hall, medieval fairs or the alleys of classical Rome.“This trick is so simple even I can do it.”
“Look, there’s no funny stuff. I’ll do it slower so you can see.”
“This is an ancient Chinese coin with a hole. Do you know where I buy the holes? At a wholesaler!”
“Sir, can you examine these five solid rings?” One of the performers at the 36th Annual International Magic Convention admitted the antique nature of the entertainment: “We’re the second oldest profession.” Before we took our seats for the Gala Show of Magic 2007, amateurs displayed their hard-earned skills. A hand placed over a coin lifted to reveal two coins, then four coins, then nothing. A pack of cards disappeared under a palm with the exception of the card selected by an onlooker. And, of course, the five rings were linked despite their solidity. It was all most mystifying, but the biggest mystery to me was why anybody bothered doing it in the first place. I seem to lack a game gene and, sadly, this extends to prestidigitation.
Even during the most incredible conjuring tricks, my mind tends to drift off, so the impact of the dénouement is less than staggering. But lots of people can’t get enough of these dextrous cons, especially those who are doing the conning. Even during the final call to take our seats, one of the impromptu performers insisted on showing a blank pack of cards that gained both faces and backs while being huffled. If anyone suggests a little game of cards with a pack printed with the rings of the Magic Circle, then run a mile. The first professional act produced a surprise. It was not the tricks of the “charming and sophisticated” Jade from the US – magically appearing parasols, a storm of confetti erupting from one hand and fanned by the other – that caused perplexity but the breakdown of her accompanying CD of Chinese music. Her ever-present smile tautened noticeably and she eventually withdrew. The show’s master of ceremonies wittered desperately for 10 minutes. Jade reappeared briefly, then vanished permanently when her music stuttered once more.
Things picked up with the next act, an American called Dana Daniels,who has adopted the persona of a Thirties wiseacre, all loud tie, flapping lapels and correspondent shoes.“So, it’s a bird!” he shrugged when his assistant, a white dove, picked the wrong card. The high point of the act was when the bird laid an egg,which was cracked to reveal a marked £20 note extracted earlier from a hapless volunteer. Appearance, patter and act, the whole seedy shtick was reminiscent of Damon Runyon, who might have been describing Mr Daniels in one of his Broadway yarns: “One of these days, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and bet you that he can make the Jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.”
The zoot-suited flim-flam man was succeeded by a 5-foot wriggling candle,which was quite interesting until a contortionist emerged from the tube. Similarly, I was less than enthralled by a man struggling to get out of a strait-jacket even when, at the moment of escape, he revealed that he was wearing another strait-jacket underneath. A slick Japanese magician whose hands filled with pack after pack of fanned playing cards was in the tradition of such acts as Kardoma (“He fills the stage with flags”) and Steve Martin’s creation the Great Flydini,who unzipped his trousers on stage and “smiled uncomfortably” when an egg emerged from his fly, followed by two more
eggs, a puff of smoke, two more eggs, a ringing telephone, flowers, a glass of wine, a silk handkerchief that flew back in his pants, a hand puppet and soap bubbles. “Because we book the acts from abroad, you never quite know what you’re going to get,” said one of the organisers during the interval.“One year,we got four bloody dove acts.”Back in our seats,we were entertained by an Indian swami who pulled dry sand from a bowl of water. His gym-toned muscularity and the fact that he was American slightly detracted from his plausibility.A baffling Argentinean mind-reader had the effect of turning my mind into a void (not hard). The evening ended with the only act to feature a beautiful assistant. She was disappeared, brought back and finally levitated. The moment that the show ended, the amateurs were desperate to get back to doing their tricks, but I was more interested in making some food disappear.