The Magic Circle in London is arguably the most famous location that a magician can go to, and study at, in the world. Its members include almost every famous magician imaginable; and becoming a member involves an intense audition process, where the applicant must perform a series of magic tricks before a panel of judges.
Living in Liverpool, I’d never been able to visit The Magic Circle - and due to the fact that you have to be over 18 years old to audition for the opportunity to become a member. I had no real idea what actually happened inside, other than what I’d heard through the hushed tones of other magicians. The majority of happenings behind those closed doors was a complete mystery to me. An enigma. It was a secret world I'd only heard about, yet desperately wanted to be a part of.
While I was performing my act in Atlanta, Georgia (which you can read about here), I was approached by two men: David Ball and Brian Miller.
I had absolutely no idea who they were, but they were incredibly flattering about my act and said they’d flown into the convention from London as representatives of the Circle; given the task to find new acts to perform at the club. We made some polite small talk before Brian, apropos of nothing, asked if I’d be interested in performing The Magic Circle’s Christmas Show that year.
I’ll explain. Each year, the society hold a series of magic shows between Christmas and the New Year. These shows are one of the very rare occasions in which the Circle opens its doors to the public, so as such, they expect their performers to have an incredibly high standard. With that in mind, being extended an invitation to be one of the performers on the show was a real honour. As you can imagine, I immediately agreed to do it.
It should be said that I was starting to become a bit jaded with my ‘classical’ act. I’d been planning on drawing it to a close so I could focus on performing another type of stage magic, so I used this show as the perfect excuse to do just that.
The shows took place twice a day between the 27th December and New Year’s Eve, so my dad and I set off on Boxing Day to ensure we would arrive with plenty of time. I assumed 24 hours would be ample, especially considering it’s only a three-hour train journey.
As we settled into the hotel that night, I remember not being able to get a wink of sleep. I was both nervous and excited about the shows in equal measure. This was THE Magic Circle! What would it be like inside? What would the members think of me and my act? What if it didn’t go down well with the audience?
The following morning we made our way there, in anticipation of the 10:30am rehearsal time. The incredible building is on Stephenson Way, not far from Euston Station, and what immediately struck me about it is that there was zero indication from the outside that you had arrived. This building is such a secret that there isn’t even a sign. Of course, this added to the intrigue even more.
I nervously knocked on the door. After a brief pause, it suddenly swung open and we were faced with a man I’d never met before. He anticipated our arrival, welcomed us with open arms and called for the technicians to help carry the equipment. It should be said that every single person we encountered during our time there was truly lovely. They all went above and beyond to make sure we felt right at home and had everything we needed.
The rehearsal went without a glitch, which is one of the joys of working with magicians on the tech team. With knowing how the tricks work, they instinctively light the stage and set everything up in such a way that the method will be completely hidden from the audience. Perfect.
Dale Salwak, Romany, Noel Britten, Steve Hewlett and Martyn James were also performing on the show - so after my rehearsal was over I went to meet each of them in turn, before heading down towards the dressing rooms.
As it happened, I was to be sharing a dressing room with the superbly funny Martyn James. Although I say dressing room, it actually turned out to be The Magic Circle's library! On the plus side, I was able to read some incredible magic books during the down-time surrounding the shows. On the downside, the library is in the basement of the building; so around 10 minutes before each performance was due to start, I found myself, holding 2 doves and wearing a tailcoat, trying to subtly make my way up the 2 flights of stairs without the audience seeing me! I’d like to say I didn’t get lost numerous times, but….
Once I was finally able to get that first show out of the way, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and fully embrace the rest of the run. Hanging out with and performing alongside these other magicians for the shows was such amazing fun, and the time spent backstage made the whole experience even more incredible and hilarious than I could have ever imagined.
One thing I found fascinating about the show was that although we all performed exactly the same acts, in exactly the same order each time, the response from the audience could be completely different. It would seem like they’d become a unit of sorts, and respond together to a variety of different moments. Whether it was due to the difference in the audience between a matinee or evening crowd, or perhaps the number of children in attendance, something different would connect with them each time. It was fascinating to watch and take note of.
Along with the venue, what also made these shows particularly special for me is that I knew they were going to be the last time I performed my ‘classical’ act. It was the same act I’d toured with Ken Dodd; Stephen Mulhern; performed in Atlanta, Georgia; and won the ‘World Junior General Magic Champion’ title with. It was the act that people identified me with. The act had been a major part of my life and career up to this point... but I just felt like it was time to move on. I didn’t want to be typecast into doing just that style of magic, and I thought that the Circle’s Christmas shows were the perfect way to end.
My final performance of 2010 would be doing that act for the last time, in possibly the most prestigious venue in magic - and although it was probably the perfect way to bring that chapter in my life to a close, there was something incredibly sad about it - knowing that after those ten minutes were over, I’d never be doing something that had made such a huge impact on my life ever again.
As trivial as this may all sound, it truly felt like a momentous occasion for me. From the moment I stepped foot on stage for what would be the last time in that tailcoat, I consciously tried to take in every beat; to absorb every moment.
I lingered on my final bow, taking a deep breath to soak up the atmosphere, knowing I’d never be able to recreate that moment again. I could feel my eyes starting to fill.
I walked off stage and hugged the other acts. Arriving back in the dressing room, I hung my tailcoat up for the final time.
Hours later, I joined everybody in the countdown to the New Year. This was to be a new beginning.