Back to the Future
The Davenport Christmas Wonder Show 2004
Reviewed by John Derris
I think that Roy Davenport, fourth generation of an amazing family is possibly one of the most courageous and visionary people in British magic today. I remember his off beat "Waterloo" act wearing military uniform with medals, cannons, gunfire etc that was somewhat erratic but original and innovative enough to win a prize in the FISM competition in Dresden against the rest of the world.
Steeped in family tradition and putting himself through stage school, he burns with an ambition to recapture and present stage magic in a grand and glorious way that is hardly seen today except perhaps in the USA. He researched and presented an act at a convention some years ago based on his great grandfather, Lewis Davenport, one of the big successes at St. George's Hall where he appeared no less than 3000 times featuring many exclusive effects.
Now Roy, living in Norfolk, hopes to create a tourist attraction in the area with a planned magic museum featuring a century of magic; he spearheaded the project with the production of the first of a series of annual live shows, the profits of which will go towards the creation of his dream. And so it was that we journeyed to the Auden Theatre in the village of Holt on the Norfolk coast to see the inaugural show The Davenport Christmas Wonder Show. An ambitious production that was staged for two weeks with a cast of thirteen artistes (plus backstage - consultant director, stage crew, technicians, choreographer, publicist and musical director ) and a live six-piece orchestra in a real theatre. More. He religiously set out to present his great grandfather's full, original, twenty minute act which included many hitherto unseen effects that had to be recreated from scratch like the expanding die (concluding with the production of Mickey Mouse), the vanishing and appearing football in goal and the incredible colour-changing waistcoat. This amazingly changed no less than fourteen times along with a member of his company whose dress also quick-changed in sympathy. I later learned that he had consulted with artistes in Russia where this kind of quick change technique has been well developed. To give you an idea of the lengths to which Roy went to bring an air of authenticity to the act, the orchestra played the original band parts and included the original, restored piano which accompanied Lewis Davenport back in the 1920's.
I cannot but admire the sheer passion and commitment that this magician pours into his career and to the art and if he continues in this way, he will undoubtedly become one of the magic names of the 21st century. Was it a good show? Yes. Not a terrific show for with such an ambitious inaugural production there were a few gaps as Roy readily admits. But with such personal enthusiasm he already has plans for an even better show next Christmas. Remembering that this was a family show the finale was a specially designed, ambitious scene based on The Nutcracker Suite with a full stage backdrop, the full company and many illusions including The Doll's House and a stunning production from an empty box. Roy's skill in creating excellent misdirection with cannon fire etc. fooled everyone as Father Christmas was secretly loaded into the box for the grand finale. At this rate Roy Davenport could become the next Doug Henning.
He was supported by a variety show with the accent on magic which included compere/ magician/comedian Paul Henri, Alexander Koplin, a wonderful, unbelievable juggler from Germany with diabalo and cigar boxes, Mark Shortland in one of the best performances I've ever seen him give (his handling of a difficult kid on stage was masterly), soprano Michele Summers from nearby Norwich and a stunning black art illusion act Papillon, which featured a flying carpet supporting cross-legged Papillon high in the air. There was also a team of Demon Dancers which opened the two halves of the show including wait for it Roy Davenport, doing his Gene Kelly bit (very well) and introducing magic with D'Lites flashing throughout the team.
I also have to commend the professional marketing effort that went into launching this new enterprise. Publicity pictures and stories in the local press, posters sited everywhere around the district, shops where tickets could be purchased, an excellent theatre programme and special group excursions that drew a large number of people from London and even Scotland. A coach trip to Norfolk with en route videos, overnight accommodation in a very good country hotel overlooking the sea, dinner on a local version of The Orient Express, a lantern slide show and a presentation by Roy Davenport on the background to the whole production. If this young man doesn't deserve to be successful in his ambitious project there ain't no justice. Watch out for more creative magic and entertainment in The Davenport Christmas Wonder Show Mark II. He's already working on it.
© John Derris, January 2005