Sorry to disappoint any Barry Manilow fans, but this isn't a trip to the big nosed crooner's concert. Instead, the colour purple and card 11 led me to....a lesson in magic! To be fair, this did involve someone called Barrie, the owner of the wonderfully quirky 'Illusioneer' in Herne Hill. The outside of this venue totally belies what lies behind. As you first enter the outer type showroom area, you already feel like a child in a magic sweetshop. It is hard to really describe the atmosphere with a photograph, so Barrie has a video called 'Behind the Door' which gives a taste of this place which is magical in every sense of the word.
Then beyond this outer Aladdin's Cave, there is actually the most fantastic tiny theatre, which seats about 20 people for intimate magic shows. This is where we sat to begin my magic adventure. Barrie started by explaining some of the history of magic, which apparently is first documented back to 2700 BC and Egyptian times when Dedi decaptiated a chicken and then reattached it's head. This is not a trick I learned to do in my session....maybe in part two? He explained that magic can be based on technology, suggestion or illusion. Even dating back to Egyptian stories of staffs being changed into snakes, which were based around primitive retracting spring mechanisms. He then talked me through other examples of technology, like the seemingly impossible to open box and the rope that gets cut and then magically returns to its full length. The basis of a lot of these is still in children's magic sets today and even though they were slightly in my subconscious, could I remember how they worked?
Barrie then explained how magic had disappeared from public culture for hundreds of years, often being associated with mistrust in an era when witches were being burned at the stake. In the 1800s it returned to popularity in street markets as a form of entertainment, used to draw customers in, and when captivated, selling them something completely unrelated to the trick. This was a form of parlour or close up magic, done to a small gathering of people, with tricks like the classic cups and balls. Barrie then demonstrated an example of this type of magic and invited me to give it a go. This was with small black and white paddles. No, of course I'm not going to explain how any of the tricks are done, as I am sure I will be demonstrating them on my friends very soon! Once you know the techniques behind the whole performance it becomes clear how the magician uses storytelling to draw you in and involve you, and the subtle distractions that are used. My dad is a big fan of magic and has practised it quite a bit himself, whilst my mum dismisses it as 'tricking folk'. Ah but it is very clever trickery!
Of course no magic lesson would be complete without the classic - card tricks. Barrie showed me two different tricks which really had me flummoxed. I always thought this was an area that I had a bit of an understanding of, but no, yet again I found myself really struggling to see how he could have not only guessed the card I picked, but had me repeatedly pick it again out of 3 packs of cards! I spent a lot of my morning going "What???...... Ahh, I see!" My two hour session (now almost up to two and half hours) was almost at an end. Barrie explained that this session could form the first of three. He gave me away a small kit to practice with and encouraged me to come back to perfect the illusions with a view to developing them and some more. I'm also totally keeping an eye open for his magic shows, special performances, and even a flea circus!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.