Walking into a room at Buckland Community Centre, it seems just like any other meeting. There are members chatting away to each other about their week, while others compare notes.
But then things get distinctly strange. In the middle of the room there’s a table floating in mid-air – with no strings attached to hold it up.
On Monday evenings, the centre becomes the city’s home for mindbending magic and trickery as the Portsmouth and District Magic Circle meets up.
With guest lecturers and secretive workshops, the society is now celebrating 75 years since it was first formed.
Rikki Mark, 46, lives in Hilsea and is the chairman. A member since 1995, Rikki has loved magic for as long as he can remember.
‘I’ve always been interested in it,’ he says.
‘I used to play a lot of football, but then I broke my leg. I was looking through The News for something to do, and I saw a college course about learning magic tricks and illusions.
‘So I went to college to learn how to shuffle cards. It was while I was there that someone suggested joining a circle.’
Having previously worked as a semi-professional, Rikki has been involved in a number of competitions and previously won the Close-up Magician of Southern England Award.
He explains: ‘I’ve worked a lot at weddings and in other venues, but now I do it mainly for friends.
‘I’m one of the few magicians who likes the close-up stuff. For me, I still love the magic and the mystery of it. I could watch it all day, it’s part of my passion to watch the young guys coming in and nurturing their talent.’
Magicians have been around for hundreds of years, but were made popular on TV during the 1980s thanks to acts such as Paul Daniels and Wayne Dobson.
Rikki says: ‘Magic is very popular with younger people, and magicians are back on the map again. Maybe six years there was a lull and not many were around.
‘But now there are so many professionals who inspire people, those such as Dynamo, Derren Brown and David Blaine. They are all amazing.’
The Portsmouth circle meets every Monday for the members to talk about magic, as well as perform their tricks.
‘We normally put on a lecture from someone who comes down to talk,’ explains Rikki.
‘They have new tricks or they promote magic. We get an insight into how the professionals work, and our members can buy their notes or seek a better understanding of a trick.’
With new members, there’s the chance to learn their craft, and meet older and more experienced magicians.
Rikki adds: ‘We also have Room 101 sometimes, which moved to Australia and set up her own entertainment business,’ says Rikki.
‘We’ve recently had a young girl of 14 ask to join, so we are getting all sorts of people who are interested in the craft. It’s fantastic that younger people want to get involved and try it out.’
But of course no secrets are revealed to non-members, and there’s a strict rule for those who do join.
Rikki explains: ‘You don’t steal someone’s act, no-one does it really. They must take an oath to not use someone’s act or reveal the secrets. If someone is seen to be doing the opposite of the oath, then they would normally be asked to leave the society.’
Celebrating its 75th birthday is a big achievement for the circle, and it’s 50 years since the members began a jumble day – a regular event which showcases their magical skills. This year it’s taking place on Sunday, November 3 at the Buckland Community Centre.
The show stars Fay Presto, an award-winning magician who has performed for the Queen, Nick Einhorn, Jimmy Carlo, Jasper Blakeley performing as Kockov a comedy mind reader and James Brown, a magician and pickpocket.
Rikki says: ‘The reason the circle has lasted is because of the dedication of the members. We have around 100 now and they are brilliant. I think everyone that comes along has a passion which gets passed on to the next person.’
And the jumble day is there to raise awareness about the circle to the public, or budding magicians.
‘Open from 9am, it’s full of dealers from around the country who sell magic or promote it,’ he continues.
‘There are also sessions for magicians to learn different tricks. As it’s our 50th year so there’s a lot going on.
‘Over the past year or so we’ve had a lot of people who appreciate the craft and have been approaching us about joining the circle. I just hope this continues.’
The Portsmouth and District Magic Circle meets every Monday at the Buckland Community Centre. Prospective members must send in an application form, which is available to download from the website.
Afterwards, they will be invited to an informal interview with members of the PDMC Council. Usually, this will be held at the centre before the start of the evening programme. Membership costs £18 a year.
For more information go to portsmouthmagic.co.uk.
In April 1938 a small group of magicians held a meeting in the Talbot Hotel on Goldsmith Avenue, Portsmouth, to establish what was to become a new magical society known as the Portsmouth & District Magic Circle.
In the months that followed the members prepared for the society’s first show, which was held in the autumn on South Parade Pier. There were two shows – one at 3pm aimed more towards the children and one at 8pm for adults.
One of the highlights of the day was 100 live goldfish, which were given away to children. It proved to be a huge success and gained the new society huge publicity.
The Associated Wizards of the South at Southampton, The Regency Society of Bournemouth and the Moon Rakers of Salisbury were neighbouring societies which were later to form an alliance, known as the Association of Magic Societies in the South.
At just 17, Myles Thornton has been a member of the Portsmouth and District Magic Circle for nearly three years. From Southampton, he has been performing magic since he was six.
Myles says: ‘I used to love watching it at parties. I think I was given a box of tricks, and I went from there really. I do small professional gigs, like weddings and parties at the weekend.
‘I’m still at college but I want to carry on doing it once I finish university.
‘It’s a really friendly club in Portsmouth and everyone gets along with each other.’
Paul Hayter, 68, lives in Lee-on-the-Solent and has been a member of the Portsmouth and District Magic Circle since 1976. It was at school that Paul first fell in love with his craft.
He says: ‘I was working in London when I first became part of a magic circle there, and then I became a semi-professional performing at children’s parties.
‘When I came down to this area I realised how good the circle was, and I came back to retire.’
Paul believes his love of magic is fuelled by the fact that he can pick it up and leave it whenever he wants.
‘I’ve always loved magic. I think most schoolboys do, as we don’t grow up. It’s one of those hobbies you can pick up.’