Monday Night Magic

Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Monday 12th November 2001
Reviewed by Ross Welford


Please Note: Magicians (especially in groups) are not allowed at Monday Night Magic. All magicians will be turned away unless they bring two lay persons with them. (If they find you, you will be evicted!)

THEY came to see magic - but the act that everyone was talking about at the end of the evening was the astonishing Steve Rawlings, a juggler of such immense skill and stage presence that if you weren't left breathless with astonishment, you were wheezing with laughter.

That's the beauty of Monday Night Magic - like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.

Well, you do inasmuch as the acts are announced in advance. But on a varied bill, and over several weeks, some people will have good nights and others, well, not so good.

Steve Rawlings had a terrific night. His eye-poppingly manic stage presence (imagine Lee Evans crossed with Freddie Starr in his funny era, with a bit of Basil Fawlty on a handful of uppers) would only be bearable if his juggling act was up to scratch, and it is. From his opening "furniture juggling," through bowling balls and a marvellous finale with a tray of wine glasses, he barked, sweated and yelped through the most energetic twenty minutes I have ever seen on stage. Amazing!

The other acts in host John Lenahan's line-up didn't stand a chance, though they gave it their best shot.

Jon Allen had it slightly easier: he preceded Rawlings. It's a testament to his likeable persona and experience that Allen, currently the Magic Circle's close-up performer of the year, was warmly applauded even though his finale was flawed. Before that came his great delivery of a cut and restored rope routine, in which the rope becomes a high-wire held by two spectators on which his fingers do the walking. It's a funny bit all right, but I think Allen likes it a little too much - he stretched this sight gag out so long that the woman next to me muttered under her breath, "Get on with it!" Allen's end-piece, too, is original but - dependent as it is on other people's mobile phones - prone to error, as it was tonight. The effect is great on paper: three spectators seal their mobiles in Jiffy bags, which are then mixed in with a toy one. The magician gets the owners to call their own phones and divines whose is who before they ring. If they ring. As bad luck would have it, two of the three didn't tonight and it made for slow stuff. The climax is funny: with two phones left, Allen "proves" he knows the owner of the last phone by taking the remaining one (the toy one, he hopes) and smashes it and sets fire to it. Great fun, but the lead up was not as slick as Jon Allen himself would have preferred, and the method (or at any rate, a method) so transparent, even to a lay-person, as to render the whole thing somewhat meaningless. My mate Chris (a non-magician) was not baffled in the least.

Now, can you criticise the Great Kovari without sounding just mean? This diminutive, moustachioed Hungarian looks so much the part that, in his intro, Lenahan said, "If you look up the word 'magician' in the dictionary, instead of a definition, there's just a picture of George Kovari."

The gags are prehistoric, many of the tricks older still (isn't there a heiroglyph on a pyramid wall somewhere of an Egyptian performing the Die Box?). Here they are presented with (gasp!) no post-modern sophistication, no irony. Audience assistants are treated gently and sent back to their seats with a certificate (rolled up like a wand, natch) and a present - a copy of Kovari's own book! It's an act he probably hasn't changed in decades, and the Highgate crowd (no strangers, I'll bet, to a bit of post-modernism) lapped it up. Cornier than a chiropodist's waste-bin, but I'll bet Kovari's busy.

John Lenahan's glee at having Kovari on the show was obvious, and this is one of the reasons that Monday Night Magic - the UK's only comedy magic club - is such a hit: everyone, especially Lenehan and his co-producer Anthony Owen, seems to be there just for the fun of it. His relaxed, seemingly impromptu links can occasionally be the best bits of a weaker line-up, not least for the sizeable handful of magicians in the audience, starved of live magic. An impromptu riff tonight on the dreadful patter supplied with dealer items had everyone smiling - but the magicians laughing out loud. (Some of them a little embarrassed, I thought…)

The genesis of Monday Night Magic is well-documented: when Lenehan, a veteran comedian/magician/street performer, was publicly shown the door of the Magic Circle for "exposure" (he revealed on TV a move used by three-card-tricksters), he decided to set up his own comedy magic club, deliberately choosing Monday nights to irritate the MC. Circle members are still supposed to pay an extra £2 admission…

Now the 120-seat theatre-above-a-pub is regularly filled. So far this season there have been appearances by Ian Keable, Scott Penrose, Marc Paul and (in one wonderful night) Nick Einhorn, Mike O'Brien and Alan Shaxon.

© Ross Welford, November 2001