The Northern Magic Circle
Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th April
Reported by Donald Bevan
A buzz of excitement in Harrogate. The reason? The Northern Magic Circle produced, for the fourth time in a row, the winner(s) of The Magic Circle Young Magician of the Year in London. Not only that, but Leah Mae Devine and sister Sarah Jade created magical history by being the first ever female winners of the title. Their mum Su Jayne, herself steeped in magic from a very early age was visibly proud and delighted.
Last year the Northern Magic Circle returned to the delightful Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate with a small but thoroughly enjoyable convention, housed in the elegant Harrogate Theatre. The medicine was repeated this year but with an even greater dosage of quality entertaining magic. This ranged from strong card effects, baffling mentalism, an abundance of comedy and stunning illusions. Even performing fleas were included in the fare!
I.B.M. British Ring No. 25 President Alan Astra and N.M.C. President John Russell formally opened the convention early Saturday morning, before Wayne Goodman introduced the Close-up Gala. Steve Gore, with likeable personality, ignored the ‘close-up’ agenda and produced entertaining and baffling mentalism with a book test, played pontoon and poker with a spectator – and won; he closed strongly showing how he premonitions dreams. New to me was mentalist Kennedy, a really striking performer who defined names and places, did a brilliant Card at Any Number presentation and other effects in a highly entertaining set. Yes, I too wondered why two mental acts. No matter, they were so different. To close, Wayne Goodman mixed skill and comedy with personality to produce a string of card routines and a neat comedy twist on Flying Ring.
During the weekend both Wayne and Kennedy were featured as lecturers. Wayne involved in a Workshop for Juniors, teaching card handling etc. and Kennedy with an intriguing assortment of routines, features a clever twist on Just Chance involving only two envelopes (a real stunner) and explanation of his previously seen ACAAN routine – this alone enough to make you give up drink!
Other lecturers, who sadly I missed, were Andrew Normansell, but having seen him elsewhere know his material is strong and entertaining, and Andrew Green whose experience as an illusionist and theatrical artiste must have been educational.
Two lecturers I did get to see (this was a packed, value for money programme!) were Shirley Ray whose expertise in designing and executing fabulous balloon characters and novelties is incredible, and Hallowe’en specialist Michael Diamond. Shirley’s lecture was packed with details, not only of how to construct various balloon models but also priceless tips on handling, choosing colours and overcoming problems. Michael Diamond offered the ‘darker side’ of children’s magic, adapting many standard props to the Hallowe’en theme e.g. Run Rabbit Run becomes Vampire Run and other routines involved witches, skulls, spiders and other entertaining scaries.
Under the banner ‘History of Mystery’ Jon Marshall regaled us with details of fleas! Through PowerPoint we saw pictures of fleas and learned the origin of the Flea Circus and how ‘Professors’ of the day (1700s to 20th century!) obtained and ‘trained’ fleas to perform miraculous acrobatic and other stunts. Finally, showman Jon presented his own Flea Circus (beautifully constructed incidentally by Danny Hunt), showing flea’s tightrope walking, driving a car, climbing a ladder, and diving into a tub of water. Applause from the ‘crowd’ was loud and long!
Last year Derek Lever and Mike Sheppard conducted a marathon auction, proceeds to the N.M.C. Junior Section. They repeated the exercise this year with a variety of props, books, novelties and ‘bargain parcels’. Except this time they switched rôles with Mike as auctioneer and Derek adding caustic comment! Bidding was slow and low to start but picked up to, hopefully, good results. Anne Lever controlled the cash, Chris Sheppard and several more did the running.
A feature of Saturday afternoon was Children’s Showtime, organised and hosted by Clive Moore who as Clivo the Clown paced the show with funny lines and the odd trick. The opener was Derby magician Y-Not, and why not indeed as Road Signs changed direction, the children had an ABC lesson; with the assistance of two volunteers cards travelled from packet to packet, until frolics in the farmyard had the children screaming.
Godfrey Shackleton, a N.M.C. stalwart over many years, appeared as Harlequin with a string of energetic routines involving a puppet bear, a misbehaving cut-out rabbit and a recalcitrant silver wand. All with energetic presentation and laughs the youngsters loved. One very young man, on stage to assist, left with an abundance of ‘gifts’ he could just about carry!
A silent, colourful miscellany of silks, ropes, flowers, ribbons and mini parasols came from Jeanie, who moved from one effect to another with ease. It was good to see many effects from yesterday’s dealers on display.
Dazzling Darren, a former N.M.C. Junior, now a professional entertainer, closed the show brilliantly. He quickly endeared himself to the children with an entertaining mix, including a DVD vanish a la Die Box, Magic Painting, and hilarious twist on the instructional Bandana routine. Darren’s self levitation using a cardboard box drew spontaneous applause from the youthful audience.
Moving props on and off for this and other shows were Stage Director Neil Roberts, Graham Colvan ASM, resident theatre crew Maurice and Mark, with Sheriton Swan (ex-Junior) on sound. Elizabeth Hebdon was in charge of the camera in the lecture studio. Most missing out on many aspects of the convention. So well done the crew!
Between events there was time to visit the dealers: Mapro Magic, Merlins of Wakefield, Illusioncraft, Andrew Normansell, Adrian Sullivan.
The Juniors Shine
Saturday evening was given over to the N.M.C. Juniors’ competition and show – almost twenty of them! First the competition, with five entries. Cameron Glenwright went ‘mental’, his final prediction of several audience-selected items being revealed on a ten-feet long scroll, sealed in a plastic tube, ensconced in a box in full view throughout the act. A clean, competent presentation.
Ross McLane pulled comedy from being handcuffed and his jacket coming off whilst still secured; except it did so in hilarious stages! A neatly presented rope routine and T&R Newspaper were also featured.
Taylor Nicou was a diminutive 10-year old boy who started quietly producing silks from a small box but soon had the audience busy laughing at gags and asides. Me too, so busy I forgot to note what other magic he did, but it was good as we were to learn later.
Joseph Mein produced a bottle from a drawing and involved members of the audience in a card routine.
Finally, Julian Gibson did a lengthy spot, including a card transpo between mouths with a spectator (not popular with the spectator nor the audience), Ambitious Card and Card in Shoe. With direction on timing and more punch he could be on the way to becoming a good performer.
Following the competition Su Jayne announced the winners and President John Russell presented the trophy prizes. First place to Cameron Glenwright. Second place and also the Comedy Award to Taylor Nicou. In addition The Cliff Lount Dealers’ Award went to Merlins of Wakefield for Best Display; The Eric Bland Trophy for best Northern Lights contribution to Stephanie Clarke, and the President’s Personal Award for outstanding support to his year, to Su Jayne. Membership awards for 25 and 35 years were also announced.
Each year the Juniors mount their own concerted show, usually to a particular theme. This year the theme was ‘Movie Magic’ or rather its music. I lost count of actual effects performed and gave up trying to write in the darkened theatre. Suffice to say these youngsters tackled anything from Torn and Restored whatever, through comedy, dramatics, productions, vanishes, manipulation – name it, they probably did it in a speedy production, produced under none-tooeasy conditions by Su Jayne and helpers. The programme even included illusions! With music fitting the themes, the films included Pirates of the Caribbean, Mary Poppins, Oliver, Sherlock, Phantom of the Opera and several more. Good fun, good magic and incredible enthusiasm and confidence from these young magicians. Well done everyone.
The Gala Show
If producers Danny Hunt and Su Jayne had any doubts on paper that this was to be a successful show, they were quelled in practice. All right, perhaps an overload of comedy and illusions, but this was a visual stage show everyone in the auditorium could see!
Wayne Goodman compèred with verve, control and even the odd trick, including a prop he bought at auction earlier in the day and gifted to a volunteer spectator! The opener was an attractive troupe of girls, Phoenix Fire Girls, in energetic dance whilst twirling fire batons.
The first magic came from late-teens Elizabeth Rogan, who with style and humour diminished cards and restored the cut string of a floating balloon (Gypsy Thread) among others in an entertaining act.
Mentalist Kennedy showed high skills in presentation and timing as what appeared to be a standard Tossed Out Deck theme – wasn’t! Even better was to come when words written on cards by audience members had one chosen by an assisting spectator which Kennedy was to divine under difficult circumstances. This word he eventually wrote on a board – except it was wrong! Disaster? No, triumph as in a neat twist Kennedy was proved one hundred per cent correct!
Comedy next, a laugh-a-second from Mark James with strings of funny lines and action, juggling supermarket plastic bags (!) and surviving a strait-jacket escape with loads of laughs on the way.
Andrew Green and company merged illusions and varied gyrations in a fast-moving act. An effective Shadow Cabinet revealed not one but two girls; a Sub. Trunk presentation was different in that the trunk was clear plastic and a cabinet penetrated by numerous triangular tubes looked impossible with a girl inside. The only downside for me was Knife Thru Arm, the full gory slicing with blood. Hardly fare for a family audience!
After an Interval, N.M.C. President John Russell and his Lady Sheila passed their regalia to incoming President Danny Hunt and his Lady Stephanie, along with short words of appraisal.
The Magic Circle prize-winning act of Leah Mae and Sarah Jade as Destiny came next. Speedy cabinet production of Sarah Jade to open, followed by penetrating and vanishing her in another cabinet using see-through tunnels. A sequence of Linking Rings was artistic before the girls performed a speedy version of Robert Harbin’s Assistant’s Revenge, with fast transposition. These girls, both trained dancers, know how to move and to ‘dress’ their magic. Excellent.
The next act Dr. Diablo (really Michael Diamond!) was a mix of spectacle, comedy and daring. First fire-eating and juggling with flaming torches, then penetrating his nose with a long nail, before repeating the exercise with an electric drill. The squeamish sank in their seats! Finally he stood on an examined Bed of Nails, including holding a boy from the audience in his arms for added ballast. Despite the ‘cringing’ effect, Dr. Diablo was entertaining.
Penultimate to the closing act, Wayne Goodman did his own spot with virtually one trick – a dramatically hilarious version of Alan Alan’s Sharpshooter effect, where a chosen card is penetrated by a bullet from a pistol – except Wayne appears to shoot at a volunteer assistant who innocently chose a Jumbo card from a deck and was subjected to all kinds of mayhem. Pure comedy, pure theatre.
Finally, more spectacular illusions, this time from Danny Hunt and Stephanie Clarke as Amethyst. Stephanie impossibly penetrated by several tube tunnels in a small cabinet; Danny himself bodily penetrating a sheet of steel (very impressive), milk vanishing and appearing in a lighted bulb, and Pavel’s Walking Knot – that’s where a long rope, cut then tied and the knot slid along the rope for several feet, is untied and shown in separate pieces. Retied the knot vanishes and the rope is restored. Not often seen but a very strong effect. There was the levitation of Stephanie atop an elaborate framework and finally the poor girl was trapped in a box with flaming spears thrust through her – fortunately she emerged unscathed – and so too did the second girl who suddenly appeared!
So the Northern Magic Circle marked up another successful convention, hopefully repeated next year – same venue, Harrogate Theatre, dates Saturday 9th, Sunday 10th April 2016.terar.
© Donald Bevan, April 2015.