The 41st International Magic Convention

16th, 17th, 18th November 2012, London

Reported by Matthew Field MIMC

Photos by Arto Airaksinen

There’s something special about the MacMillan family’s International Magic convention which takes place each November in London. There’s a warmth and a buzz that was very much in evidence at this year’s Ron’s Day, as it is called, after the convention founder, the late Ron Macmillan. This was the 41st year of the event which was held on 16, 17 and 18 November at the wonderful Mermaid Theatre complex, conveniently located across the street from the Blackfriars rail and underground stations. More than 600 magicians attended the events, with about an equal number of lay audience members joining them for the two performances of the gala show.

For the second year, the convention was preceded by a separate entry London Festival of Magic, which ran in the nearby Bridewell Theatre from 12-16 November. Participants in these events which ran all day with separate evening shows, were: with a theme of Directions ‒ Richard McDougall, Michael Vine (Derren Brown’s manager), Derren Brown’s TV producer from Objective Productions Anthony Owen (interviewed by me), Morgan & West and Rob James; Tuesday was devoted to Card Magic with sessions and a show by Woody Aragon, Vincent Hedan, Michael Vincent, Will Houstoun and Oliver Meech; Wednesday was all about Mentalism, with Luke Jermay, Ian Rowland, Chris Cox, Vincent Hedan, and Joe Atmore; on Thursday Perception & Deception were the bywords, with Richard Wiseman, Peter Lamont, mathemagician Arthur Benjamin, Thomas Fraps and Card Ninja; Friday was devoted to Comedy Magic with lectures by Juan Tamariz, Stephen Bargatze, Neal Austin and Rick Merrill.

The International Magic Festival itself began on Friday evening at the Mermaid Theatre Complex with a recreation of a Dunninger one-hour radio programme with Joe Atmore in the title role, assisted by yours truly and Marvin Berglas, plus guest stars Frankie (from Dancing on Ice) and Sophie Aldred (who played ‘Ace’ on Dr. Who). Jeff McBride lectured next, followed by a hilarious mock mentalism show by a barefoot Ian D. Montfort (actually Tom Binns).

Saturday morning and early afternoon was devoted to the 29th annual Close-Up Competition for cash prizes and trophies, including the coveted Kevin Reay trophy. A dozen contestants from nine countries competed in 10-minute performances with an international judging panel including Gerrit Brengman, newly-installed FISM president Domenico Dante, Gay Ljungberg. Tonny van Rhee, Andy Nyman, Joan Caesar, Obie O’Brien and Jackie McClements. Awards of merit were won by Fay Presto (U.K.), Jo Jo (China) and Rune Carlson (Norway). Third prize, a trophy plus £100, went to Shota Irieda (Japan) for a humorous cups & balls sequence and a prediction in which the colour tie chosen by a spectator matched the one he wore. Second prize, a trophy plus £500, was won by Ha-Seol Park (South Korea) for a mock practise session with a cup and ball, and lots of colour-changing props. The Kevin Reay trophy and £1000 went to first prize winner Pierrric (Switzerland), whose crowd-pleasing, funny performance included cards and an instant Matrix.

The Saturday programme continued with a lecture from U.S. comic magician Stephen Bargatze, who showed how to strong-arm children on stage while they had a great time being pushed around, and he was followed by Eric Mead who deconstructed his version of 3-Fly. Making his first live magic convention appearance was Simon Drake, star of TV’s Secret Cabaret and performer at his own House of Magic in London, who reminisced about his TV show appearances, demonstrated original effects and gave invaluable presentation tips.

Around 30 dealers from around the world had their wares on offer in a convenient dealer room, and it should be mentioned that hot inexpensive food was available as well as two bars serving libations.

Saturday evening saw the first of two performances of the Gala Show, but we’ll delay a report because a separate admission event took place simultaneously in the Bridewell Theatre, and that was a one-man show by Juan Tamariz. The theatre was filled with some very well-known card experts who were in awe of Sr. Tamariz’s ability to do absolute miracles while giving a hilarious performance, and 90 minutes flew by before the audience stood and applauded this genius of contemporary magic. As for me, I could find only one word to describe the effect of the evening: inspirational.

There were magicians sessioning in the Bridewell bar and the one at the Crowne Plaza hotel well into the late hours of the night. Sunday began with a lecture by Joe Atmore, who related his experience as a consultant for the TV programme The Next Uri Geller, a reality show which aired in ten countries around the world. After the presentation of the awards for the contest, detailed above, a 90-minute Close-Up Magic Gala, compered by John Archer, featured Woody Aragon with card magic, Stephen Bargatze with comedy, Jeff McBride with a brilliant new take on a thimble routine and his signature Water Bowls, Rick Merrill with his vanishing and multiplying Sharpie pens, and Eric Mead with a tabled Coins Across, Oil & Water and the routine by the late Tim Conover for Ramsay’s fabled Cylinder and Coins. To end the show, Mr. Bargatze and Mr. Merrill got into faux fight over football team fandom and wrestled their way around and under the giant TV screen.

Rick Merrill opened the afternoon with a lecture, followed by the one and only Juan Tamariz, whose lecture included magic and practical theory about how to raise the level of energy a magician can evoke from his audience. David Berglas was on hand to present the eagerly awaited, and well-kept secret of who would be this years recipient of the Berglas International Magic Award. Previous winners have been the MacMillan family, David Copperfield, Uri Geller, Juan Tamariz and Derren Brown. An eight-piece Mariachi band joined Mr. Berglas on stage and after serenading the audience, one of the band members turned out to be Jeff McBride, who accepted the award and sat with Mr. Berglas for a chat and audience Q&A.

And so we come to Sunday evening and the second performance of the Gala Show. Pre-show entertainment was provided by several close-up magicians, and Michael Vincent performed his parlour show. Noel Britten was the hilarious M.C. who kept things moving at a brisk pace. With an Olympic torch-shaped programme in hand, the audience was kept alternately laughing and gasping in awe by the skill of the performers, including Jo Jo with a production act themed around pouring a cup of tea; Simon Drake with magic and the most incredible strobe-lit Dancing Cane you will ever have the pleasure to witness; the balletic and poetic manipulation act of FISM prize-winner Lukas, mathemagician Arthur Benjamin who can add and multiply long strings of numbers and construct a magic square while making it all entertaining; Jeff McBride with his manipulation, card-throwing and unbelievably entertaining Miser’s Dream coin production act with a child from the audience; Japan’s Ouka, who performs feats of wonder with a diablo and yo-yo along with rings whose mesmerising patterns are truly beautiful, especially when seen under ultraviolet light; Stephen Bargatze with a strait jacket escape which had people crying with laughter, and comic Neal Austin, who rarely (if ever) appears in venues other than on passenger ships. This last act, Neal Austin, is a physical comic who had the audience gasping for breath as he brought out outrageous props and over the top gags, and even performed a one-man chair levitation. It is wonderful to see someone with this much experience be so funny on stage, and I can only hope he will eventually release a DVD of his work. Neal Austin is one of the greats.

It was a wonderful show, put together, as is the entire roster of performers for the convention and the London Festival of Magic, by Noel Britten. Martin MacMillan, Georgia MacMillan, Teresa MacMillan and their families and friends run the administrative side. Video throughout the week was provided by Bob and Sue Hamilton, along with Jay Fortune, Matt Heard and Geoff Searle. Backstage crew included Jon Robinson, Jeff Randall, Cliff and Alex Ruff, Ed Hilsum, Tom Sanderson and Harry De Cruz. The staff of the Mermaid is friendly and helpful, and I can’t wait to book again for next year. The dates will be 15-17 November at the same venue, with the London Festival of Magic immediately preceding from 10-15 November, and you’ll be able to find all the information on the International Magic website. I recommend you put the dates in your diary now!

This year was something special. I’m sure next year’s will be as well.


© Matthew Field, November 2012