Magic’s for life, not just for Halloween

Rikki Mark, 48, from Hilsea, who has been a member of the Portsmouth Magic Circle for 25 years and has been the president of the Portsmouth and District Magic Circle since 2013  ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151827-8787)
Rikki Mark, 48, from Hilsea, who has been a member of the Portsmouth Magic Circle for 25 years and has been the president of the Portsmouth and District Magic Circle since 2013 ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151827-8787)
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A Kinder Egg is a Kinder Egg. Foil wrapper, chocolate shell, plastic case, toy inside. Seems obvious enough.

But what if you broke through all those layers and inside the capsule was the corner of a playing card that you had torn off just moments previously?

Your response is likely to be incredulous – but you better believe it, because this is the trick that got Rikki Mark into the magic circle.

The 48-year-old from Hilsea has been a member of the Portsmouth District Magic Circle for 25 years, and has been president since 2013.

A former South Coast Close-up Magician of the Year, Rikki’s speciality is in tricks with cards and rubber bands.

He keeps the latter not quite up his sleeve, as the expression goes, but worn around his wrist, and pulls one off to show me a trick.

It involves a story about Harry Houdini and a lamppost – with an elastic band and his thumb in the respective starring roles. He wraps Harry around the fleshy ‘street light’ and asks me to pinch the top of his thumb, effectively trapping the elastic escapologist around the digit.

Rikki tells me to say go, and the moment the word escapes my lips Rikki tugs the band and with a ping Harry lives up to its namesake and frees itself.

As a knee-jerk reaction, I ask Rikki how he did it. His response is ‘very well’.

‘When people ask me this, all I say is “Can you keep a secret?” and they’ll say yes. I say “So can I”. It’s as simple as that.’

In the magic circle, revealing how tricks are done to the public is a cardinal sin. Even new members of the circle have to wait a month before they can learn tricks from the society’s library, says Rikki. For him, this secrecy even extends to telling his audience what’s going to happen in his act.

‘Imagine I tell someone in the audience that I’m going 
to do a card trick, and the 
card’s going to end up in 
their pocket.

‘If it ends up in someone else’s pocket they’d say the trick’s gone wrong. But hold on a minute – I’ve still made the card appear in a person’s pocket.

‘My theory is that if you start off by saying “I’m going to do such and such, such and such, and then this will happen”, and one of those elements goes wrong, you’re stuck. So you never tell them what’s going to happen. For that reason, I feel that my routines have never gone wrong. I’ve had tricks that have not gone to plan but the end result ends up being the same. There’s an alternative to every trick.’

These are the words of a seasoned performer who began learning the tricks of his trade as a child.

‘I’ve always been into magic, and my dad used to do little tricks I would do them at school. I used to buy lots of joke and magic sets. One day I broke my leg playing football and I was looking through a magazine to learn a language or another skill, and I saw a course called Magic Tricks and Illusions at Warblington School in Havant.’

During the 10-week course Rikki laid down the foundations of his magic style.

‘My teacher said that you had to look around you and see which everyday objects could be made magical. A pack of cards – they’re everyday objects. Elastic bands: everyday objects. Money, flowers, hats, all everyday objects. I based my magic around that idea.’

After the course ended, his teachers put him in contact with local magic circles so he could pursue his passion.

Rikki’s everyday object of choice was a Kinder Egg when he auditioned for the Portsmouth District Magic Circle.

There were no eccentric initiation ceremonies – just an eight to 12 minute audition in front of the society’s members. He impressed the tough crowd enough during his performance that he was invited to join.

‘It’s like trying to teach Elton John how to play the piano. It’s not as bad as that, but when I joined everyone in the audience had dickie bow ties on and they were all in their three-piece suits.

‘There was a dress code in the old era, and it was quite daunting. Now, we try and relax the people auditioning. It is nerve-wracking but we try to help them along. Their skill level doesn’t have to be up there with [the magician] Dynamo.’

He adds: ‘I was always into elastic band tricks but for my audition I got the spectator to tear a card, and to cut a long story short the corner of the card was inside the plastic case of a Kinder Egg.

‘They had to break the egg, open up the toy, and inside was part of their card which matched what they had in their hand.’

Over the next 25 years, Rikki honed his craft by doing gigs as an entertainer in bars and restaurants, including a four years at the Chicken Shack in Port Solent.

‘If I’ve been booked to do magic in a restaurant and I approach the table, some people think I want money from them and aren’t interested. I just move to the next table, get all these people laughing and joking, and then when I move on, they’ll say “Excuse me, can you come back and do that trick for us?”’

He adds: ‘I never perform a trick twice at the same table, that is a golden rule. If you watch me do the same trick again, you’ll be looking for where I put that card, or whether there’s something up my sleeve.

‘That’s why I always roll my sleeves up when I perform. To show I can still do the trick. It’s all about these.’ He wiggles his fingers.

Rikki makes a distinction between doing a trick and performing a routine. A trick is something you learn from a book, he says, whereas a routine is how you put them together and make them your own.

With the internet, it is easier than ever to watch a tutorial and repeat a trick. But Rikki says to become a real magician, you need to do it yourself.

‘I don’t think the internet affects us, because the skill is not in knowing how the trick is done – it is actually performing that trick and making it real. What you see on YouTube could be edited or doctored.

‘There are five rules of magic – practice, practice, practice, practice and practice. It does make perfect. Every day, whether I’m showing someone a trick, or I’m doing a paid gig, I’m still practising.’