It’s All In The Mind Review

Review Published in The Cornishman 29th November 2012

It was almost standing room only at the Acorn last Friday night. Alan Jones was presenting his show to a widely appreciative, but completely baffled audience.

Alan had described his show as “a mixture of psychology, suggestion, intuition and theatricality”. It certainly was all that, plus it was a very entertaining experience.

He constantly surprised us. There were spooky – no other word for it – moments and a bewildering demonstration of mind-reading, along with times that appeared to be pure magic.

Alan is an accomplished showman and the various sections of his performance were smoothly linked by his warm humour and fascinating anecdotes.

When he talked about Houdini, you could hear a pin drop, and when he ‘worked’ with members of the audience there were many spine-tingling moments. Around me I heard murmurs:  “How did he do it?” I said it myself. I had no answer.

All I do know is that we witnessed some totally unexplainable events; learned some of the history of the greatest escapologist of all time and rocked with laughter at Alan’s, sometimes bizarre, sense of humour. His story of being dropped into Falmouth harbour, wrapped in several lengths of padlocked chains, was stunning. When he had rehearsed it earlier in the day it had gone badly wrong. He could not pick open one of the padlocks.

So if you want mystery, suspense, laughter and sheer entertainment, make sure you catch the next show by Alan Jones.

reviewed: Pat Quayle  : published The Cornishman 28/11/12

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Magic – A Consumer Product

Over the last few months I have had the opportunity to see a number of  ‘commercial stage magic/cabaret acts’ and so the following thoughts are based on my personal observations.

Now let me say this …

The following comments are personal opinion and not meant to single out any one performance over the other.

ALSO, all of the performers and performances who inspired these thoughts are full time working pro’s and, probably have a more complete date-book than my own.

They are working commercially…

And this is where I start my comments and thoughts.

There is a commercial expectation about what magicians are ‘all about’ – card tricks, cutting women in half, making things vanish and ‘fooling you’.

Magicians are, in part, to blame for this since they will freely talk about ‘tricks’ and ‘fooling folk’.

I don’t really think the experience of being fooled is the most motivational of experiences. As magicians we can enjoy it since it brings back something of our own innocence – but in general being fooled can be equated to being taken advantage of and that is far from pleasant.

The ‘commercial acts’ have been watching all seemed to fall into the standard stereotype of ‘magic’ and several lacked much of the finesse of the Devious Minds Show (reviewed earlier in this blog).

In my mind then I see two types of commercial magic acts…

Those defined by the consumer and their expectations and those offering something the performers themselves have defined as being a magical-entertaining experience.

One of the illusion acts I saw recently had decided to ‘theme’ their act upon a particular popular series of movies. I can understand the motivational driver – if we do something based on something popular then we are marketable.

I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.

Such a direct and obvious theme, down to looping the films soundtrack for musical backing, drives comparison to the movie blockbuster and not a celebration of the magic.

Of course bookers and agents will like such an act as it is ‘accessible.

Note being accessible  rather than being ‘magical’.

I’ve fallen foul of local media needing to ‘box’ what I do, as often the press will use the tag “Cornwall’s Own Derren Brown”.

Of course I’m flattered by the comparison BUT I am NOT Derren Brown and with such billing could be compared unfavaourably with this super magician/mentalist… a kind of second or third best to the TV and Stage award winner.

Going back to the illusion act I mentioned above, they will never be the ‘action movie’ they based their act upon and as such open themselves up to being  a second-rate Indiana Jones or Jack Sparrow.

Now I’m NOT saying that magic cannot be themed; what I am saying is that IF it is, it has to match the production values expected from its association with the high production/high budget endeavour.

The other issue about magic becoming a consumer product is that it will become homogeneous and lack definition.

It is for this reason that the biggest names in magic stand out from the also-rans – they bring their own brand of originality, and break expectations.

In my recent observations it wasn’t only themed illusion acts which were becoming in danger of being consumer-driven mush.

The cabaret patter acts are also prone.

Here I have witnessed working, and bookable professionals, using hackneyed lines without any sense of irony.

What makes some of these performances so depressing is that the rehearsed and scripted lines lack humanity, reference to the current audience and any attempt to build real rapport and emotional connection.

In one venue I was feeling quite uncomfortable as the stage performer, who had invited a young woman on stage, continued to deliver the same ‘cheeky’ lines they always delivered without any recognition of the fact that the onstage volunteer was no more than 16.

There was certainly a seedy edge to this which was not fun to watch. The performer concerned, who was technically proficient, was certainly not audience aware.

I was beginning to think that my negative reaction was just me being overly sensitive, but then another magician who was in the audience commented to me during an interval that he felt the same.

Perhaps the issue here is about considering the difference between ‘commercial magic’ and ‘consumer magic’. If these two ‘drivers’ are linked creatively then the magician can help re-educate the audience; challenge their expectations entertain with originality.

Ah well, just thinking








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Halloween, Seances and Sceptics

I know I must be getting old when it takes a little longer each time to recover from a couple of late nights. Ok, so perhaps a 450 mile drive to a gig and a 450 mile trek back is bound to take it’s toll – but even so…

However, the tiredness and required recovery period was well worth it. The Centre for Life in Newcastle is an impressive venue and having been asked to present a seance based show there for Halloween was a very exciting prospect.

A few days before I had had the opportunity to present an evening of ‘psychic fraud’ at the Plymouth Humanist and Sceptics Society. What a great bunch of folk and I can only hope they enjoyed it as much as I. The gig at the Life Centre presented another opportunity to talk in ‘rational mystic’ terms about aspects of the paranormal. Choosing to present a version of The Houdini Seance allowed for space to talk about scepticism as well as offer a few magical possibilities.

The Centre managed to attract over 800 people on Halloween to enjoy presentations of Peppers Ghost, a 3D Planetarium Show featuring the music of Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) and my Houdini Seance. Sheela, the event organiser and her team at the Centre certainly know how to throw a party and if you get the opportunity I’d heartily recommend a visit to this interactive educational establishment.

The Stage Set for the Houdini Seance



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