Old Tyme Music Hall

Presented by Eclipse Productions

Reviewed by Paul Leacy

The highlight for me at this performance was the escapology act presented by Jonathan Cann, performed by Stuart Harley and assisted by Gordon Burtenshaw. All three are members of the Sussex Magic Circle, ACES, and the South Downs Magicians.

Jonathan, a professional Magician, Actor and Director opened the act, ‘A Tribute to Houdini’
with a short talk about Houdini’s life. Dressed in full evening tails, his dramatic opening remarks set the atmosphere for what followed.

Stuart Harley entered also impeccably attired in full tails. After removing his coat and tie, he ripped off the sleeves of his shirt in true Houdini style. Supervised by Jonathan, he was then strapped into the regulation straitjacket with the help of a member of the enthusiastic audience who ensured that it was fastened tightly.

After a Herculean struggle, during which the qualities of strength and determination and courage leapt over the footlights, Stuart managed to extricate himself, to thunderous applause from the audience. Stuart took a well deserved bow and left the stage to prepare for the Milk Can Escape.

After a short introduction by Jonathan, The Milk Can escape was presented in a most dramatic fashion. Four volunteers were brought onto the stage whose task would be to fasten the padlocks on the can. The audience were invited to stand up and partake in a short competition to see who could hold their breath the longest. After the breathless audience were seated, Stuart entered again, wearing a dressing gown which was removed to reveal a Victorian bathing costume. Smiling modestly at the show of admiration from the ladies for his rugged physique he climbed into the Milk Can causing water to overflow the lip of the can. An extra bucket of water was added for good measure and Stuart’s wrists were then placed in handcuffs. The lid was placed on the can by Gordon, the time clock was started and the audience members left the stage after ensuring the lid was firmly padlocked to the can. A screen was then placed around the can and the audience waited…. the music, ‘Asleep in the Deep’, as used by Houdini was played on the piano by Michael Hinton, an admirable M.D. The music came to a triumphant climax but still no sign of Stuart. Jonathan asked for the music to be played again. The audience were worried by now. After two and a half minutes, counted by the exuberant chairman, Gordon and Jonathan were also worried. He should have escaped by now. Gordon & Jonathan conferred in an agitated manner. The audience tension grew as they prepared to witness the tragic drowning of Stuart Harley. Unable to wait any longer, Gordon and Jonathan threw the screens to the floor to reveal Stuart sitting atop the still padlocked Milk Can completely free of his manacles! The applause and cheers raised the roof as the triumphant team of Stuart, Gordon and Jonathan left the stage of Ditchling Village Hall.

Stuart and Jonathan returned in Act 2 as ventriloquist and dummy respectively for a most amusing comic turn. Gordon Burtenshaw, an up and coming performer and highly thought of member of the magical fraternity, showed great comic timing as the waiter in this act with his perfectly timed ‘applause’ gag. The sting in the tail happened at the end of this act when after Stuart had put the dummy back in the box, they switched places, make-up, and costume a la metamorphosis (another Houdini Illusion) so that Jonathan became the ventriloquist and Stuart the dummy. A most inventive and novel ending.

© Paul Leacy. President, Sussex Magic Circle. January 2004




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