The Gentleman Magician

The Royal Automobile Club of Australia, Sydney, May 20

BLUESUIT

Bruce Glen, The Gentleman Magician. Photo: supplied

Walking through the front doors of The Royal Automobile Club of Australia, situated in Macquarie Street not far from the Sydney Opera House, it feels as if you are stepping into another era. The faded glamour of the beautiful historical building whisks you back decades as if time has stood still here.

It’s the perfect setting for Bruce Glen’s show The Gentleman Magician, a magical soirée in which he aims to re-create the ambience of a 19th century European salon. The ticket includes a glass of bubbly and canapés on arrival and then as we settle into seats facing the small raised platform where he will perform, he suddenly appears among us, a welcoming, genial presence.

The Gentleman Magician has none of the razzle-dazzle and flashy stage-craft of shows like The Illusionists recently seen in Sydney. Instead it’s an intimate evening for an audience of around 70 in which Glen – who is a member of The Magic Circle – combines consummate story-telling with magic tricks. An ambient soundtrack plays quietly in the background to create a slightly mysterious atmosphere, while an assistant unobtrusively sets up various acts.

Glen has researched the area and tells tales of local showmen from times past, as well as international stars like Houdini, not to mention the ghost who apparently haunts the building. He has given each of his tricks a name such as All Ropes Are Not Created Equal, Another Con Job, The Imaginary Psychic and Wonderland – the latter, a card trick performed with a member of the audience in which he draws on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.

Presenting himself as a professional “liar” and avowed skeptic, he performs mind-reading illusions, using the trickery that charlatans have employed to pose as psychics. In one of his signature pieces, Percy Pitch, he brings his own twist to the “one cup and one ball” trick by performing it while narrating a poem that he wrote in the style of Banjo Patterson.

I reckon I could see how a couple of tricks were done but most were satisfyingly baffling. All in all, it’s a thoroughly entertaining evening (running around 70 minutes) performed by the genteel Glen with stylish, old-fashioned charm.

Bruce Glen performs The Gentleman Magician at The Royal Automobile Club of Australia, 89 Macquarie Street, Sydney every Friday night. Bookings are essential: www.gentlemanmagician.com.au or 1300 033 599

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The Illusionists 2.0

Sydney Opera House, January 9 at 2pm

Left to right: Raymond Crowe, James More, Adam Trent, Luis de Matos, Aaron Crow, Dr Scott Lewis, Yu Ho-Jin. Photo: Daniel Boud

Left to right: Raymond Crowe, James More, Adam Trent, Luis de Matos, Aaron Crow, Dr Scott Lewis, Yu Ho-Jin. Photo: Daniel Boud

Vale Dr Scott Lewis

Having seen the Thursday matinee of The Illusionists 2.0 (the final performance before the official opening night) I had planned to post my review yesterday morning (after another busy Sydney Festival day on Friday).

Then came word via Twitter that yesterday’s matinee had been cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Later, the Sydney Opera House sent out an email confirming the dreadful news that Dr Scott Lewis, The Hypnotist in The Illusionists 2.0 had died after falling from the balcony at the Sydney apartments where the cast of magicians are staying.

Having seen him interacting so comfortably and affably with the audience during his entertaining hypnosis act just two days earlier, the news felt doubly shocking.

Yesterday’s sold out matinee was cancelled, but last night’s show went ahead (dedicated to Dr Lewis) as will the rest of the season. The show must go on, as they say, brutal though that sometimes seems.

Apparently the other six members of the cast paid an emotional tribute to Dr Lewis, with Yu Ho-Jin performing a card trick using playing cards featuring a photograph of him.

Dr Lewis, an internationally renowned hypnotist who had a long-running show in Las Vegas, was one of seven performers featured in The Illusionists 2.0. Billed as “the next generation of magic”, the show follows the sell-out success of The Illusionists at the Opera House last January.

The other performers are Australia’s own Raymond Crowe as The Unusualist, Britain’s James More, who burst onto the scene via Britain’s Got Talent last year, as The Deceptionist, Portugal’s Luis de Matos as The Master Magician, Belgium’s Aaron Crow as The Warrior, American technology illusionist Adam Trent as The Futurist, and Korean card manipulator Yu Ho-Jin as The Manipulator.

Arriving at the theatre, everyone is given a sealed black envelope with strict instructions not to open it until asked – just one of many audience participation moments. But fear not, everyone is treated gently and no audience members are harmed or humiliated in the making of this show.

Several on-stage screens with colourful, pulsing video patterns, dramatic music and rock concert lighting along with the odd blast of smoke create a Vegas-like atmosphere. There’s also a large, central screen on which close-up 3D footage is shown for some of the acts.

The Illusionists 2.0 is a fun, family-friendly show with magic across a range of different styles from The Deceptionist’s apparent impalement to The Unusualist’s sweet hand shadow puppetry performed to the song “What a Wonderful World”.

The Warrior, a genuine showman whose cheekbones are as sharp as the sword he wields, lops off the top of a pineapple, standing on the head of a nervous looking volunteer, while his head is covered. The Futurist seems to be in two places at once, while The Master Magician orchestrates the opening of the black envelopes.

My particular favourite was the exquisite card tricks of The Manipulator. Even with the 3D camera focused tightly on his beautiful, slender hands it was a complete mystery as to how the cards appeared, disappeared and changed colour. Performing with an expression akin to rhapsody on his face as his hands fluttered and swooped, Yu Ho-Jin, who is still in his early 20s, weaves a very special magic.

During the show, you had a fair idea of how some of the tricks were done, while others left you wondering, ‘how on earth…?” The audience clearly loved the lot.

The Illusionists 2.0 runs at the Sydney Opera House until January 16.  Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777