Magician vs Medium
Dragon Hall, Covent Garden, London
25th April 2009
Reviewed by Merlin Dunlop
Here is the entry on MagicWeek for this event:
Magician vs Medium - London. The Magician vs Medium event on Saturday 25th April has changed location, and will now be staged at the excellent Dragon Hall, Covent Garden, in the heart of London, close to both Covent Garden and Holborn tube stations. On the afternoon of Saturday 25th April the Dragon Hall will witness an unprecedented competition as mentalist Pete Campbell-Wells MMC takes on spiritualist medium Donna Stewart to prove once and for all who's power is the greatest! Before an audience of magicians, mentalists, psychics, skeptics, believers and the just plain curious, the mentalist will demonstrate how the unscrupulous performer can gain information about an individual without possessing an ounce of psychic ability, while the medium will be attempting to convince the audience that her gift is real and far more powerful than the mentalist's "parlour tricks". The event will be hosted by parapsychologist Dr. Ciaran O'Keefe and promises to be a most entertaining, interesting and informative occasion. Saturday 25th April 4pm - 7pm at the Dragon Hall, Covent Garden. Tickets are priced at just £25. Please note that tickets are not available direct from the Dragon Hall but should be purchased by visiting www.frightnights.co.uk or by telephoning 0114 2764644.
The afternoon kicked off very slightly late at about 4.15pm. We were welcomed into the Dragon Hall by a chap called Paul from frightnights.co.uk, the organizing company for the event. The venue was a smallish hall, I think a community centre of some sort, but light and airy and quite suitable for the afternoon's activities.
An audience of 100 or so (I estimate) arrived and after a brief introduction from Paul, the MC for the afternoon, Dr. Ciaran O'Keefe, was introduced. He told us a little about his background and what to expect from the show. He came across as a sensible and friendly chap, with a healthy skepticism about paranormal activity, but nonetheless an open mind. He made the point that the billed title of the show was misleading in that we were not to witness a contest, but just two demonstrations of contrasting skills.
Dr. O'Keefe in turn introduced the first 'demonstration' of the afternoon, Pete Campbell-Wells. Pete is a member of The Magic Circle and gave an hour or so's entertainment in the form of mentalism, which was prefaced by the statement to the effect that no paranormal ability was involved.
He stuck to fairly mainstream and light-hearted routines, including some cold reading, a Q and A style routine (although with facts, not questions per se), and an ESP matching effect, among others. He was lively, entertaining and appeared friendly, engaging with the audience well. The effects were executed smoothly, and the audience seemed impressed. My only real criticism was that during the time when the audience was writing the 'facts' for the main mindreading routine, he attempted to avoid dead time by performing other effects. Whilst a good idea in one way, it made for two problems. Firstly, it was difficult to concentrate on the effects and participate in then at the same time as trying to think of embarrassing facts to write about yourself. Secondly, many of the audience seemed to take this time as a cue to talk amongst themselves, so the 'focus' of the show seemed a little lost for a few minutes. Overall however, I felt he gave an excellent show, and my criticisms are minor in the circumstances.
There was then an interval of 15 minutes followed by the psychic medium's demonstration. Donna Stewart, who told us she started off working as a baker before becoming a full-time medium, stepped up to the mark. She started off by explaining the differences in what she did from what Pete had demonstrated. She then proceeded to try and 'connect' with some spirits of departed friends and relatives of those in the audience. She spent a long time trying to get her first 'yes' from the audience and when it did come it was not really a good fit for most of the information she had provided. She did not claim this as a hit and said that it needed to be more specific, so she'd try again. This was repeated several times, before a final conversation that yielded a few more hits but of a distinctly non-sensational nature (e.g. a plumbing problem in the spectator's bathroom).
Donna repeatedly stated that usually she had more hits and that she was struggling to link spirit to spectator. On more than one occasion she also said she'd leave the information with the person she felt it was meant for and that they could see if it made sense later, when they got home. This was reasonable in the circumstances but made for a rather unconvincing demonstration overall.
Donna came across as very sincere and whilst I do not feel I witnessed psychic communication with the dead, neither do I think she is a charlatan and deliberately trying to mislead her audience with tricks. She seems to really believe in what she does. I also have to applaud her for being brave enough to appear before an audience who could potentially have been fairly hostile.
After the two demonstrations, Dr. O'Keefe held a question and answer session with the two performers and the discussions covered ground familiar to people interested in these fields, namely the reality of the paranormal, ethics of performing such material and of offering advice or readings. Dr. O'Keefe told a few anecdotes about his experience of studying psychics in the lab.
The whole event was very well-run and the interaction and discussion good natured and informative.
I decided to attend this event relatively late, but I was very glad I took the plunge in the end. What transpired was entertaining and thought-provoking in many ways. I would be keen to attend similar events in the future.
© Merlin Dunlop, May 2009.