The British Magical Society Annual Dinner and Cabaret
Saturday March 22nd
Reported by John Ward

Whilst attendance was not as high as in previous years, the same high standards were maintained at this year’s Annual Dinner and Cabaret of the British Magical Society held on 22 March at the Ramada Hotel in Sutton Coldfield. The theme this year was rabbits, and looking at Members, Guests and Friends all bedecked in their finery I can definitely say there was not a hare out of place. Anyway instead of rabbiting on let us return to the business of the evening. As usual with this sort of occasion there were the obligatory speeches, the feature one delivered by the outgoing President John H. Price. Awards were presented by Secretary Paul Cadley, the Society Jewel to Nathan Croft, the Ray Bradbury Close-Up Trophy to Nathan Croft, the Roy Eddington Trophy for Pocket Trophy to Chris Jonah and the F. E. Walker Trophy to Mike Gancia. The main award of the evening was the presentation of the David Berglas Award to Terry Herbert for “Services to Magic”, although unfortunately David was unable this year to present the trophy. Previous esteemed recipients of this honour include John Fisher, Alex Elmsley, Paul Kiev and Marc Raffles. Terry – winner of the Circle’s Carlton Award and widely respected performer of children’s and comedy magic – name therefore is now to be added to this illustrious list of British magicians.

Following the filling meal of soup, chicken and cheesecake the highlight of the evening was upon us. The Cabaret is always something special, a chance for many people to see live magic, in particular novelty and illusion acts, which is unfortunately all too rare in this age of solitary electronic entertainment. This year the show was compered by Ken Dodd Award winner and BMS Member Alec Powell, who also had the opening slot to the show. This act was entertaining with sight-gags for laypeople and spoofs for the fraternity. Alec performed his madcap versions of levitation, ‘Any Card thought of’, sword swallowing, sawing in half and of course his signature routine: the speed camera. In what Alec self-styled “a show that is rapidly becoming a Billy McComb Tribute Act” Alec gradually won over the audience who were quite unreceptive at the start. By the close the audience were laughing and really getting into the madcap magic of Alec Powell.

Every Dinner has to have an illusion act, this Dinner that was filled by British Ring Theo Speaker Cup winners Jason Steele and Joanne. On first sight I thought that this ‘traditional’ illusion act whilst being competent would be ‘OK’ but nothing more. Indeed at times their presentation of some effects was laboured, for instance the ‘Substitution Trunk’ transposition came in at a sluggish 2.7 seconds, yet overall they had an exhilarating performance style and some extremely well devised routining.

With impeccable timing to music and a myriad of costume changes for Joanne, they performed (not presented as with many illusionists) many of the now standard illusions along with smaller items such as a silk vanish, the Chinese Rings and the Wrist Chopper. In particular I personally found their cardboard cartoon routine stunning, and from the reaction of the audience I know they did too. As Jason stabbed the wooden stakes into the box with force, members of the hotel staff collected to watch instead of working (I have found over the years this is the sign of a good magician and their reaction of stunned applause really sums up how brilliant this was) what could be used as an example of the perfect presentation of an illusion that baffled and entertained. Joanne’s costume change went unnoticed by many, but for the more observant this was an excellent touch that tied the whole routine together.

The other type of act that most shows have is the ‘Novelty Act’; however this act is usually used as a diversion between two magic acts rather than as the closing act. Yet Graham Lee – current European Balloon Entertainer of the Year and Alistair Winner – had an act that can only be summed up as novel and show-stopping (not two things said about many novelty acts). In his ‘World of Laytex’ Graham did his versions of the classics of magic. Effects represented were ‘Vanishing Candle’, ‘Linking Rings’, ‘Cut and Restored’, ‘Professor’s Nightmare’ and ‘Snowstorm in China’. This was the first time I had seen Graham perform this widely acclaimed routine and I did fear before hand that some of the positive comments may have been hot air, but after seeing this spectacular act I can say none of the praise was inflated.

As The Louise Mayer Duo tried with limited success to get people to dance people were excitedly talking about the cabaret. Whilst each person I talked to had a favourite act what they all agreed upon was the amount of variety in the show and the overall high standard. Yet I would have expected nothing less from the team behind the Annual Dinner as once again they organised a smooth running evening of enjoyment and entertainment, no mean feat. So keep 28 March 2009 free for next year’s dinner!


© John Ward, April 2008