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It's magic, but not like anything you've seen before ; THE BIG INTERVIEW The IllusionistsThe world of live magic may have seemingly died in the early...

September 27, 2013


It's magic, but not like anything you've seen before ; THE BIG INTERVIEW The IllusionistsThe world of live magic may have seemingly died in the early nineties, but it's back and this time it's dark and dangerous. Riah Matthews travelled to Dubai to meet The Illusionists and to see the show they are bringing to Nottingham next week

SOMETIMES with magic and illusions, things do go wrong. On the first night of performing his new illusion at the Sydney Opera House, escapologist Andrew Basso had to be rescued from his water torture cell before he drowned.

They had to break open the top of the tank and pull me out because my adrenalin was so high, my heartbeat was crazy and I couldn't do it like in rehearsal, says Andrew.

Executive producer Simon Painter adds: I thought he was doing a very good job of being dramatic but it turns out he was drowning. The famous escapology trick is performed without covers on the cell - done for the first time ever in Sydney - which means the audience can see exactly how he makes the escape, from being handcuffed in the water cell to his escape. He says: Many old magicians and escapologists are against the fact that I show my abilities - the lock-picking and how I squeeze my ankles through the holes - but I think this is a good move.

Andrew was doing his own one-man show when he was just eight- years-old in his small hometown in northern Italy and by the time he was 14 he'd discovered escapology.

He says: Growing up, Harry Houdini was always my reference. He was famous for the water torture cell and in many books and movies. Many say he died in the water tank but this isn't true.

In history, from Houdini until now, many magicians did the cell trick but they covered what happened which means you don't know if it's real.

Andrew, 27, knows that audiences today are more cynical and inquisitive about how tricks are done, so he decided to take the covers away.

He's just one of the performers in The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible, which started as a two-week run in 2012. Two years and a world tour later, The Illusionists is still running and will go to Broadway next year.

Before going Stateside, it's making a two-night stop in Nottingham next week.

I met the cast and creator Simon Painter in Dubai while they were in the middle of an 11-night run at the vast Dubai World Trade Centre.

They say they're looking forward to coming to the UK where they'll play more intimate venues like Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall, where they can interact with the audience more easily - a key aspect of the show.

Simon says: It's going to be amazing. It's going to be a lot easier in the UK than it is here - there's no language barrier and there's an etiquette of going to the theatre. For the performance I saw, they had to start the show 30 minutes late because the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, came to see the show and it couldn't start without him.

Simon says: Here they have to make the aisles really obvious because people get up halfway through to make a mobile phone call.

Theatre's are also a nicer place to be than a convention hall; it has a magical feel to it.

Londoner Simon, a formal classical violinist turned show producer, created the show when he saw a gap in the market.

I'd lived in Vegas and I knew a lot of magicians. I saw the opportunity that there wasn't anything like this - there hadn't been a successful magic show for a couple of decades, since David Copperfield, says Simon.

Of course there have been plenty of TV magic shows but live magic is completely different says Simon.

TV magic is really easy but stage magic in front of a live audience with no re-records is very tough; you have to have very good people.

With this in mind he set out to contact the best in the business and managed to get his wish-list of the finest magicians.

As well as Andrew, the illusionists include gothic anti-conjurer Dan Sperry; couple Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh who specialise in classic magic re-imagined; funny man and trickster Jeff Hobson; Kevin James, who's famed for his magical inventions; and the only Brit in the cast, mind-reader Philip Escoffey.

Simon says: The concept was to find the greatest illusionists in their respective fields. It was the perfect opportunity to do a big spectacle show that hadn't been done for decades.

In Sydney they sold 30,000 tickets in the first week and have barely had a break from touring since. The appeal of The Illusionists seems to be that it's tricks audiences know and love - cutting in half, sleight of hand, mind reading card tricks - but it feels contemporary and new.

With magic it's not what you do it's the way that you do it. A trick's a trick, it's all in the entertainment, says Simon.

They've recently been working on an illusion which sees the house band vanish from the stage band appear at the back of the audience. During the show it works seamlessly but it hasn't always gone to plan.

Simon says: That's been six months in the making and it hasn't worked so many times. But what do the audience know? If they see the band vanish then that's the illusion but if they see the band then appear at the back of the room, they're even more impressed. They don't always know if something hasn't worked.

Things go wrong but you try and cover it over - it doesn't often go wrong to the point where it's exposed.

One of the most experienced cast members is Kevin James, a prolific magic inventor who's created tricks and illusions that have been performed by David Copperfield and Doug Henning. He shot to fame globally in 2007 when he auditioned for America's Got Talent as a mad surgeon who seemingly brought half a body to life after sawing it in half.

Kevin's most famous trick is the floating rose, which is beautiful in its simplicity. It sees him pluck a young girl from the audience and make a paper rose float in mid-air before her eyes.

He says he's been polishing and perfecting this trick for years.

It looks effortless, it looks easy but there's really a lot going on that the audience can't see. You have to make it looks simple and easy, says Kevin.

Another magical moment is when he turns a piece of tissue paper into snow which then falls to cover the audience.

Kevin says: When I was inventing that I wanted to tap into everyone's childhood memories of playing in the snow.

Seeing snow makes you feel a certain way, then you get those feelings while I'm performing and you leave the theatre really happy. The Illusionists comes to Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday October 2 and Thursday October 3, with shows at 8pm both days; tickets range from Pounds 32.50 (concessions), Pounds 40 to Pounds 99. Go to or call 0115 989 5555.

'With magic it's not what you do it's the way that you do it. A trick's a trick, it's all in the entertainmentSimon Painter

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