Hey presto! The Illusionists, seven of the world’s top magicians selling out venues around the world, will appear in more than a puff of smoke at Sheffield City Hall - they’ll even make it snow, as Graham Walker found out in Dubai
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch show highlights and an exclusive chat with creative director Simon Painter.
The Mentalist Philip Escoffey should be burned at the stake.
That would have certainly been his fate in medieval times and with some justification.
He may be one of the nicest men you could ever wish to meet, but his mind reading skills appear to be nothing short of witchcraft.
The Brit asked me to think of an object and to write it down while he wasn’t looking. Then he peered into my eyes, as he attempted to read my mind for the answer and asked me three things while I remained silent and gave nothing away.
“Could I buy one for under £50? Do you believe I own one of these things? Could I fit one in a normal supermarket-size trolley?” he asked.
I said nothing.
He scribbled down his answer on a piece of paper and pushed it into my shirt pocket, adding: ”Logic and a basic education tells us this can’t be right. If I could do this, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be on my own island. If you trust me you don’t need to look at what I wrote.”
I looked and with mind-boggling accuracy he hadn’t just drawn a top hat - which had been on my mind - he had written the exact word I had been thinking about. Magician.
It was one of those jaw-dropping moments like the many I had witnessed the night before when I watched him and six of the world’s other top magicians performing some of the greatest tricks the world as ever seen.
The Illusionists, described by creative director Simon Painter as the ‘Avengers of Magic’, each with their own comic book type super-hero image and show poster to match, also features The Enchantress Jinger Leigh, The Trickster Jeff Hobson, The Anti Conjuror Dan Sperry, The Escapologist Andrew Basso, The Inventor Kevin James and The Gentlemen Mark Kalin.
Each is a master in their own field and, with the help of 20 assistants, they perform the spectacular tricks from their hugely impressive repertoires.
There are acts of grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance and for the first time ever in history, a full view water torture escape - recreating Harry Houdini’s death defying routine, but with no drapes, for 21st century audiences to witness the impossible, as the poster says. It lives up to the promise.
The first 10-minutes, worth the ticket money alone, features seven of the world’s greatest illusions, from making a women vanish to a full size steam train appear on stage. And it ends with a snow storm which fills the theatre - quite a spectacle in the 40c Dubai desert resort.
Following sell-out runs in Sydney, Mexico City and around the world, the show comes to Sheffield City Hall on Sunday, October 6.
Simon said: “The Illusionists are seven Avengers of magic. There’s the Anti Conjurer, a cross between Marilyn Manson and David Copperfield, then the Inventor Kevin James - the greatest inventor of magical arts in the last 50-years. Andrew Basso is the leading Escapologist on planet Earth. He does the Houdini water torture cell - four minutes under water, no curtain and he picks the locks. If he doesn’t make it we break the tank and drag him out.
“Mark Kalin and his wife Jinger are the masters of classic magic re-imagined, the finest art form from 100-years ago, brought forward to the 21st century.
“We have Philip Escoffey, indisputably the leading mind reader in the world.
“And last but not least, Jeff Hobson, without question one of the single funniest human beings ever to grace a stage.”
Philip, The Mentalist, has gone from wedding entertainer to playing some of the biggest venues, like Sydney Opera House.
“As good as I am as a mind reader, I didn’t predict that,” he smiles.
“I’ve had people argue passionately with me that I’m psychic. I make no claim to be.
“Derren Brown is a friend and I have nothing but huge admiration for him.”
The Inventor, Kevin James, created many of the world’s greatest illusions for the biggest names in the business - including, for David Copperfield, the snow trick and turning a napkin into a floating rose in front of a little girl. He performs both in this show.
Kevin, who also chainsaws a man in half and puts him back together again, said: “The rose trick is a very simple effect. There’s a honest sense of wonder - the feeling we all experienced when we first saw magic. And there’s nothing like seeing it live.
“The greatest trick of all time...is making magic popular again.”
The Gentleman Mark Kalin every night gets to saw in half The Enchantress - his wife.
“There are some nights I enjoy sawing her in half more than others,” he laughs.
It does sometimes go wrong. Jinger is missing the top part of her left index finger which got chopped when they were perfecting their act.
“The blade, when it came down, was a little off in the timing. It’s live theatre. But I love performing the traditional classic. It’s an illusion and practise makes perfect,” she said.
The Trickster Jeff Hobson links the show together with comedy magic and lots of audience participation.
He said: “Most people who really don’t want to go up on stage, don’t worry. We can tell that you’re frightened - we’re not going to bother you. Those who do should make sure they have their underwear at the end - that’s the one thing to check.”
Anti Conjuror Dan Sperry performs an edgy modern take on magic - including one particularly look-away moment when he eats a piece of string and pulls it out of his eye socket..
“It’s not side show. It’s magic in the sense the end goal is still to give a sense of wonder and amazement, not to gross you out.”
Escapologist. Andrew Basso, whose hands and feet are tied before he lowered into a locked water tank, says its hard work cheating death every night: “It’s a big honour for me to bring the Houdini legend live.”
*Tickets for Sheffield City Hall’s two shows on October 6 - at 6pm then 9pm - are now on sale, from £30 each, subject to booking fee. Family tickets available. Buy in person, call 0114 2789 789 or visit www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.