Davenport's Magic Kingdom
A Dream to Reality
Reviewed by Donald Bevan
Incredible! Wonderful! Wow! These were some of the utterances emanating from the
four-score invited guests to the official opening of Davenport's Magic Kingdom
situated in North Walsham, Norfolk on Saturday July 6th. Yes, this fascinating
exhibition, museum, entertainment venue actually opened for business a few weeks
ago, but this was the 'Official' day. Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, Lord John
MacGregor and a few other magicians attended, but the bulk of the guest list
consisted of those involved in this 30-year dream – architects, builders,
designers, financial advisers, artists and craftsmen. The local lady Mayor,
attending with her family and some Councillors, told me how much they enjoyed
the visit and that 'the children think it's wonderful!'
Company Director Fergus Roy welcomed everyone. He gave a detailed résumé of the journey throughout three decades. From an initial thought to the present, emphasising this was not the end of the trail, only the beginning as many more magical artefacts from the Davenport Collection and archives were yet to be restored, unveiled and added to the exhibition. Plus other entertaining ideas.
Fergus then introduced Managing Director Roy Davenport, whose unbounding energy, enthusiasm and cheer cussedness in the face of adversity had brought it all about. Roy extended named thanks to those mentioned above, then brought on his 'Mum' Betty Davenport, who briefly performed the 'opening ceremony' by unveiling a plaque marking the occasion.
Split into small groups, visitors were then introduced to the mysteriously cloaked Elizabeth, who taking us through a burning fireplace (shades of Harry Potter Floo powder!) invited us to enter an inner sanctum and view a First Edition of Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft from 1584, followed by gruesome details of witch-hunts and even a trick or two. This was well scripted and performed.
From thereon we entered a wonderland of magical intrigue – impossible and pointless to describe in detail. Suffice to say that magicians with even the slightest interest in magical history will be intrigued. Within colourful displays are illusions and artefacts from such as Robert-Houdin, Maskelyne, Devant, Chung Ling Soo, Servais Le Roy, Murray, Chang, Oswald Williams, Dante, Lyle, Levante, Kalanag and more. Step into a 'room' and you can be photographed actually being levitated by Paul Daniels. Simply follow the instructions.
Other rooms show film of Cardini, David Nixon and Tommy Cooper; there's a full-size version of Houdini's Water Torture Cell, the trunk used in Maskelyne's illusionary sketch Will, the Witch and the Watch (or Watchman).
Posters of leading magicians abound. There are hundreds of magic catalogues on display (always a wondrous source of magical information) and there's even a motorcar – Lewis Davenport's 1920s Rolls Royce, which only in comparatively recent years came back into the family's possession. Other prized items include splendid armchairs from Egyptian Hall and a full size Grand Piano from St. George's Hall, which on this special day was expertly played by a young man, who had 'vanished' before I could get his name! If you fancy a break and a cuppa, there is an extensive cafeteria area in which to relax.
It is important to note that this exhibition/museum is not designed simply to attract magicians. Quite the opposite. The general public, 'lay' people, will be the mainstay of this quite exciting project, the Norfolk coast and surrounding areas being popular with holiday-makers. Thus there are all kinds of activities including a Headless Lady side-show illusion, occasional Punch and Judy shows and magicians performing close-up magic. There are 'magic shops' selling tricks and memorabilia (if you are into nostalgia, seek out Oliver who fronts an amazing display of yesteryear Davenport and other props). Incidentally, throughout the exhibition there are no exposures, no gimmicks or fakes on display.
In addition there are frequent 30-minute shows throughout the day in the small intimate theatre, with genuine theatre seating, by Roy Davenport and/or magical guests. We saw Roy replicating his great-grandfather Lewis Davenport's act: vanishing wand, mutilated sunshade, fast tambourine production of ribbons, billiard balls and thimbles, colour-change waistcoats and more, followed by a superb Miser's Dream and 'signature' Linking Rings.
To be an integral part of this venture, named donations are invited. For £120 you can 'Name a Seat' in the theatre; or for £25 have your name inscribed on a 'Wall of Friends'. Simply visit the website below, click on 'Friends' and follow the instructions.
This 'report' is long enough, but which I hope gives a 'feel' to what the Davenport family have achieved and their plans for the future – which include possible further expansion as they hold a long lease on substantial land. They deserve every support.
For booking and other details: www.davenportsmagickingdom.co.uk
Telephone: 01692 405254
© Donald Bevan, July 2013