British Magical Society Annual Dinner and Dance

Ramada Hotel in Sutton Coldfield

28th March 2009

Reported by John Ward

On Saturday 28 March the British Magical Society held its Annual Dinner and Dance at the Ramada Hotel in Sutton Coldfield. Whilst attendance was down on previous years, those who were present had an extremely enjoyable evening which featured a incredible cabaret. Each dinner is themed by the outgoing President around their personal magical interest, so this year President Pat Cross chose ‘Magic Circus’ to reflect his alter ego ‘Pat the Clown’. In his clown make-up Pat – who has also been a successful illusionist and cabaret performer – has performed at children’s parties as well as working major venues like Drayton Manor and events such as the Walsall Illuminations in the Midlands. To reflect the theme had the room decorated with ‘Big Top’ centrepieces and posters of famous circuses through history.

At these occasions speeches are usual. Pat Cross gave one as the outgoing President, as did Mike Gancia as the President-Elect. Mike O’Brien representing the many guests at the evening gave a speech which was particularly well received. Following the speeches was the customary presentation of awards and trophies under the careful guidance of Paul Cadley. Allen Merrell was presented with a Tankard for Fifty Years Membership, comments that he must have joined in middle age were quickly rebuked Nathan Croft was given the Ray Bradbury Close-Up Trophy, Chris Jonah was awarded the Roy Eddington Pocket Tricks Drive Trophy, Steve Evans with the Bundini Award, the F. E. Walker Trophy to John H. Price and the Society Jewel to Chris Jonah and Nathan Croft. The prestigious David Berglas Award presented to a British magician who has made an outstanding contribution was made to Roy Walton. Both Roy and David were unable to make the Dinner, but Roy who created such classics as ‘Card Warp’ fits easily in the company of other recipients such as Alex Elmsely, Mark Raffles and the late Ali Bongo.

After the meal was the cabaret, and what a cabaret which really was the highlight of the evening. As well as having a reputation for having one of the best programme of lectures in the country, the BMS also is well known for compiling a good cabaret at the dinner. This year the compère was John Archer, a seasoned comedy performer whose experience at working with real audiences shone through. Able to work the crowd, particularly with his interaction with members of the audience or victims, John warmed them up well.

John was not being a comedian tonight, but a comedy magician. Although the magic was not technically groundbreaking, the way it was presented and performed could not have been better. The effects used were superb vehicles for John’s comedy, each routine had been finely honed. Beginning by ‘swallowing’ an inflated balloon, John performed a humorous song on the ukulele. Other effects were the ‘Magic Square’ where John managed to get fantastic gems out of using members of the audience…who would have thought the ‘Magic Square’ would be funny…and also to hype the effect up. Another mental effect that is the stalwart of the magician – the ‘Book Test’ – was played big by John who once again got the audience fully involved. John was an excellent opening act and indeed he made a good compére dealing admirably with unforeseen problems.

Now being the squeamish type...if anyone is double-jointed and tries to show me I head for the wilderness or Wolverhampton as it is known here in Birmingham (that was a joke, no complaints please)…Delia Du Sol’s act was not quite to my taste. Yet this contortionist was I am reliably informed excellent, indeed the way many members of the audience stood up to watch her perform showed how popular she was. The routine she did this evening climaxed with her drinking a glass of water that was behind her on the floor whilst not moving her feet or using her hands before she squeezed herself into a small Perspex box. Even though I watched her act out of the corner of my eye I have huge admiration for her talent and hard-work that is involved…such as the warm-ups she has to do before going on…yet I cannot help but think how on earth she worked out she could do this stuff.

The cabaret was closed by Amethyst. As a Society the BMS are very lucky to have such a good relationship with the fantastic illusion double-act of Danny and Annette. Once again Amethyst did not disappoint. In an act crammed full of magic, they varied the tempo and mixed large illusions with elegant classics to create a well rounded performance with something to appeal to all. Indeed there were no fewer than nine effects and Annette wore at least five outfits during the act. Indeed there was not just magic to recorded music, Annette even sang in her beautiful voice to accompany Danny performed his version of a ‘Snowstorm in China’. Yet this is enough about the act in summary…now let us look at what they actually did.

Amethyst got off to a flaming good start when Danny whipped off the cloth that had just covered a previously empty cage that had flames in it to produce Annette. Annette was then locked into a clear box, a cloth held in front of the box. When the cloth was dropped four and a half seconds later Annette was on top of the box in a different costume. As a quick break from boxes and cabinets Danny walked through a solid metal plate before getting Annette into another box. This time once the tube and rods had been inserted into the lower half, Danny – in a twist which I have not personally seen before – collapsed the top half of the box. This drew a good applause, and rightly so as it was slickly presented, and also led people to leave their chairs and stand around the edge for a better view of this stunning act.

The first slowing of tempo came when Danny performed the ‘Colour Changing Records’ by Pavel (who is lecturing for the BMS later this year) and then continued with a silk vanish and restoration. Finally Danny did ‘In the News’, although it always intrigue me why us magicians do not actually ‘vanish’ the milk rather than bring it back. Finally, after ‘Snowstorm in China’ accompanied by Annette’s singing, was the effect that many of us had waited for. When Danny showed us footage of this illusion in a superbly entertaining and informative lecture earlier this year the common consensus among members was that we would love to see this live, and boy did it exceed our expectations. Once Annette had climbed into the box of this mammoth prop and the door was closed, a metal plate was pushed in. Then Danny pushed the top section of the box which had her head and hand shown off the top of the bottom and along the rail which went around the prop. The violent motion when it went back and forth on the underside of the track was extremely theatrical. This got a rapturous reception from the audience and even more when Annette reappeared unscathed. In summary this was a fabulous act- featuring a good balance of classics and illusions – which climaxed with a unique illusion which wowed all those present.

Whilst the Louise Mayer Duo played people talked about the evening and the great success that it had been, rather than dance. The BMS had – according to the consensus of opinion of those who attended – pulled off another superb dinner featuring an excellent cabaret. Let us hope that the same can be achieved again next year when President Mike Gancia hosts the 105th Dinner on the 27 March.

© John Ward, April 2009