Conjuring up a fresh interest in the art of magic

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He’s young, stylishly dressed, charismatic and prone to making your money disappear into a kiwi fruit.

He’s young, stylishly dressed, charismatic and prone to making your money disappear into a kiwi fruit.

080189-1_magic_darren 16/01/08 (IH)''Portsmouth magician Darren Holden.'PICTURE: IAN HARGREAVES (080189-1)

080189-1_magic_darren 16/01/08 (IH)''Portsmouth magician Darren Holden.'PICTURE: IAN HARGREAVES (080189-1)

In an eye-catching but tasteful suit, Greg Williamson will charm you at your dinner table and then baffle you with all manner of magical skills.

At just 21, Greg has forged a successful career in the world of tricks and illusions, performing close-up magic at weddings, VIP parties, awards ceremonies and other events.

The Hayling Island magician had been perfecting tricks since he was a child. He became so skilful that he was accepted into the Portsmouth And District Magic Circle at just 12. And now he is one of the new wave of performers enjoying a modern magic boom.

Gone are the days of the top-hat conjurer. The new magicians will win you over with style and humour.

Magic is cool again and television programmes such as ITV’s Penn And Teller: Fool Us and the BBC One’s The Magicians are proving that the public still loves to be tricked.

In the ITV show, magicians tried to impress Vegas illusionists Penn and Teller.

Greg says: ‘I know some of the guys who were on that, I thought it was brilliant. It’s great that the public are being exposed to magic and how different the image is now. The days of pulling rabbits out of hats is well and truly over. And these programmes show that it’s really taken off.’

The BBC has put magic back in the Saturday night prime-time slot. And The Magicians shows that the top performers put far more into their acts than simply performing tricks.

Stars such as Luis de Matos – renowned for having made an elephant disappear and a Ferrari melt – and quirky comedy magicians Barry and Stuart combine their own unique styles with jaw-dropping skill.

And the sharply-dressed close-up magicians also show magic’s modern style.

‘I wear a suit, something boldly striped, but tasteful not cheesy,’ says Greg. ‘And I like to think I’m a nice guy so that’s how I come across.’

Of course skill is as important as image and Greg has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. As well as taking your money and making it turn up in a piece of fruit, he can also change its currency at the drop of a hat.

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Greg has been adding to his bag of tricks since he was a little boy doing magic as a hobby.

At 15 he chose to do magic in a hotel for work experience. The careers advisers didn’t try to persuade him otherwise because they knew how much he loved it and they were wise. From that, the teenager landed his first contract and has been working ever since.

Greg credits street magician, illusionist and endurance artist David Blaine as one of his first influences.

‘He came on the scene when I was about 10. He was doing the card tricks and everything like that. He was cool and it looked good and that really got everyone’s attention. I got the bug and it started from there really.’

But along with the rise of magic comes challenges. People are more knowing, their expectations are higher and they’re more difficult please.

‘I don’t get it wrong because you really can’t afford to,’ says Greg. ‘And you don’t want them to work you out. I’ve never been worked out. As well as having the showmanship, you need the skill. I’m a perfectionist and that helps.’

And of course you need discretion. It’s well known that Magic Circle members won’t reveal their secrets and Greg is no exception.

‘I can’t tell you, I’d be out of a job,’ is his answer when quizzed about the money trick. And then adds: ‘People like that one, probably because it’s impossible.’

DARREN HOLDEN

As a magic shop owner, Darren Holden has seen first-hand the effect of the new wave of TV shows.

After the UK’s magic men tried to impress Las Vegas legends Penn and Teller in the ITV programme, business was brisk.

‘They’re really making an impression, we had loads of people coming in asking for things after the Penn and Teller show. And they were things we’ve had in for years.’

As well as running his shop The Magic Attic in Fratton, 35-year-old Darren performs table magic and has a cabaret show.

His tricks often have the shock factor – slamming his hand down on cups that may or may not conceal a metal spike has certainly got people going in the past.

But he says audiences still find the traditional trick just as magical. ‘Styles have changed but a lot of the magic is often the same. I do a lot of traditional things because people love that.

‘Even if they’ve seen something on telly, they like to see it live.’

SCOTT THATCHER

Now look at my face,’ says magician Scott Thatcher, as his head expands before your eyes.

‘I can shrink it too,’ he announces enthusiastically before performing the same trick in reverse.

The magician, known as Silly Scott to thousands of youngsters, is showing off one of his favourite illusions. With the use of a prop, he regularly performs this one at children’s parties.

Scott also performs close-up magic at weddings and other events. But the 36-year old finds his younger audiences can be every bit as challenging to please.

‘Children aren’t stupid and you should never talk down to them or treat them like they are,’ he says.

Like most magicians on today’s competitive scene, Scott thinks it’s important to bring something a bit different to the table – or indeed the children’s party.

Children and adults are harder to please and fool than they were 30 years ago, so Scott believes in putting on a sophisticated show for the youngsters.

He’ll levitate two foot off the ground and make a carpet – usually with a child on it – float.

‘I want the adults to enjoy it as much as the children. I don’t just do little party tricks, I like to bring in the big illusions.’

But Scott’s act does feature the traditional rabbit. His reliable and patient assistant Mango is used to being produced out of nowhere and facing the attention of amazed youngsters.

The magician loves the reactions and the laughs.

‘I get a real buzz from that, seeing people enjoying themselves. I think there’s a lot of rubbish in the world and children have a rough time. Taking them out of that for a while is great,’ says Scott, who visits the children’s wards at three hospitals each month.

But it’s also a serious business and the world of close-up magic is competitive. When Scott performs his table tricks he knows he can’t afford to go wrong.

Family and friends are used to him trying out tricks on them and his partner Kirsten is a particularly good judge. ‘She’s seen so much magic that she must be a bit bored with it,’ laughs Scott. ‘If I add something to the show and it makes her smile, then I know I’m on to a winner.’

STARS OF MAGIC

Harry Houdini

The most famous magician in history was known for his escapes and that last fatal failure. But the commonly held belief that he met his end while trying to escape a water-filled cell is merely a myth. He actually died in 1926 of a ruptured appendix.

But his water tricks were his most dramatic and as his publicity posters boasted, one mistake and he was history.

David Copperfield

One of the giants of magic, Copperfield is known for his combination of storytelling and illusion. In his TV shows, he has pushed the boundaries of spectacle, walking through the Great Wall of China, escaping from chains and shackles just before plunging over Niagara Falls and vanishing an Orient Express train car. Now that’s magic.

Paul Daniels

Speaking of which, the catchphrase king was Britain’s number one telly magician for many years. The style of his long-running show might seem a little dated but nobody questions his expert magicianship.

David Blaine

Among his achievements are being buried in an underground plastic box under a water-filled tank, standing encased in a massive block of ice and giving Eamonn Holmes a hard time on GMTV. His impromptu street tricks are credited for inspiring a new wave of magic.

Lance Burton

Ask any magician who inspired them and they’re likely to mention Lance Burton. The award-winning master magician builds his show around traditional abracadabra illusions but includes plenty of spectacular new twists. This is magic on a grand-scale.

Penn and Teller

The Vegas headliners blend illusion and comedy for a quirky performance style. They specialise in gory tricks and clever pranks. Sometimes the duo claim to reveal the secrets of a trick, but those are usually invented for the sole purpose of exposing them. It’s all part of the act.

HAVE A GO YOURSELF

And now here’s a chance for you to make your own magic with a trick you can learn

Step one: Take a deck of cards. Look at and memorise the bottom card in the deck. This will be your key card.

Step two: Fan out the cards – picture side down – from left to right on a table. Ask someone in your audience to tease out one card from anywhere in the pack.

Ask them to look at and memorise their card and make sure they don’t tell you what it is.

Step three: Get that person to part the remaining deck in half. Create two piles of cards on the table in front of you and ask him or her to put their card on top of the pack on your right.

Step four: Fan the cards out – pictures up this time – on the table in front of you. Make sure you fan them out from your right to left or the trick won’t work.

Step five: Look through the pack of cards and locate your key card.

Step six: Amaze your audience by correctly picking out the card your volunteer selected – it will be the one to the left of your key card.