A Magical Variety Show
Empire Theatre Blackburn
12th March 2011
Reviewed by Geoffrey Newton
Photograph by Joe Gilmour

The Modern Mystic League (MML) is the magic society based in Blackburn Lancashire and will be celebrating their centenary in 2014. This show featured plenty of good entertainment so I’ll waste no time and tell you all about it.

It opened with a rousing routine extremely well choreographed from the Zoe Taylor Dance Academy who brought on stage, the compere Shaun McCree. He soon warmed to the audience with his own style of wit and humour then introduced Ben Proos a young magician who had recently won the MML Challenge Cup. Ben presented a manipulation act with umbrellas, billiard balls, silks and not forgetting the essential linking rings! His card manipulations clearly showed signs of nerves but he appears dedicated to magic and I am sure all this needs is more similar real situation performances to boost his confidence and hopefully solve the problem. His recurring theme of colour changing sunglasses was certainly new to me and I found it very innovative.

After Shaun’s The (W)Hole Trick which allowed time for resetting the stage, on came Guy De Paul (Paul Guy). He is clearly a very experienced children’s entertainer and it was good to see some of the effects he had demonstrated in a recent lecture played before a lay audience of which there were many children present. Watching his routines with a youngster on stage make me realise why he is such a busy and popular entertainer in the area.

Time now at front cloth came Brian Lead. He is the concert secretary, a fellow MIMC also a well respected magical author. Brian worked with puppets and the inter action between himself, the characters and the audience really was pure entertainment. First there was Lydia a girl Pellham type puppet (remember those?) with a moving mouth and a ‘live arm’. This very shy little girl really came to life. Following on, Baskerville, an arms round neck dog who just barked, with an almost endless number of puns round just that one word – well after all Brian teaches English! Finally a monkey came onto the scene. Now the balloon gag where you place an inflated balloon into the mouth of a puppet and it rises as if being taken up in a hot air balloon is by no means new but I can honestly say I have never seen so much laughter from this one item alone. Although not an act of ventriloquism in the normal sense it did go to show what reactions can be created with such props in the right hands.

The next performer was Trevor Dawson billed, as The Debonair Deceiver and I would certainly concur with this. His opener, the cut and restored bicycle inner tube I remember Mo Howarth doing over 40 years ago and it is still a winner today. His confident Chase The Ace (stage size and I mean STAGE SIZE i.e. very large!) and the T & R newspaper both went down well. Trevor’s finale was the salt trick a la Fred Kaps. This was a good spot by a ‘seasoned’ performer.

Donald Monk is a man with an inventive mind so you never know what to expect. We had all been issued with bingo cards on the way in with a strip of stickers to place over the numbers as they were called. This was a spoof as of course everyone fills a line at the same time. Then an announcement came “You have all won a 15 minute break to buy your ice creams”.

Curtain up again and the Zoe Taylor dancers were back, on top form again, on this occasion in a tap routine in their bright and colourful costumes. It was now time for a spot from our compere Shaun. He presented the sucker silk and a clever very entertaining routine with Rocky Raccoon (“a ferret in Lancashire”). There were gags galore here, some I had seen and heard before and indeed some ones new to me. All timed perfectly.

This paved the way for Paul Joyce. He clearly is another experienced children’s entertainer arriving with a noise meter to encourage applause etc. This prop fell to pieces in a big way (a la circus clown effect) and caused much laughter. His mind reading teeth and do as I do with a balloon penetration created much attention with his child helper who was rewarded with a ride on the flying carpet.

By now Brian lead had taken over as compere and brought on stage Peter Dean. Now what can I say about him other than everything! He is an amazing guy, so funny and so different. The invisible deck, a borrowed watch routine and balloon modelling - so simple but equally hilarious. The one-liners, situation comedy and timing it was all there. All I can say is look out for this name and if the opportunity arises go and see him. I feel sure you will not be disappointed. He was billed in the programmes as “anything can happen” and I couldn’t agree more!

As a finale Donald Monk returned with a story about St. George. He assembled an adult sized dummy of a knight and placed it into a cabinet where it came to life. St. George was sent off to find the dragon and soon returned riding the pantomime type dragon – too cute to be slayed!

Now what came next was, at the time I thought an anti climax but do read on as it turned out very clever.

Donald started to tell the story at front of house tabs (he’s good at stories!) about a small child from far away lands that had never seen snow. He went on to perform the Snowstorm in China as known but as the flakes wafted from the fan the house tabs opened and the whole cast were all performing the same fanned climax filling the stage with snow. A very clever twist only topped by the stage manager walking on and giving Donald the brush to sweep up. Stage managers (in this case tongue in cheek) tend to hate magicians for this very reason!

It was a good show, well thought out and equally well presented.


© Geoffrey Newton, March 2011




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