On first meeting the members of the Harrogate Society of Magicians I was somewhat taken aback. I must have nursed certain mental images of what a magician might look like – a hat, a cape, a cane, a waxed moustache, a grandiose manner – but this diverse bunch of easy-going chaps smashed the stereotype in an instant. Out of costume, they could pass for Muggles on any crowded shopping street. But on stage – suited and booted, illuminated and wired for sound – you quickly sensed a connection to a centuries-old tradition.
This was the society’s second consecutive year at feva, following a 2016 show that came close to selling out. Now promoted to a Saturday night slot, and doubtless aided by word of mouth from last year’s appreciative crowd, they filled the Frazer to capacity.
There were eight of them this year. The youngest was Nat, a dapper escapologist with a nice line in wry quips, who yanked himself free from duct tape and a straitjacket, while somehow spiriting a lost playing card into a can of Coke. The oldest was David, whose prop-based parlour tricks felt beamed from one of David Lynch’s eerier dreamscapes.
To most of the children in attendance, Bob was a familiar sight; his ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’ show in the market square has been a firm festival favourite for a long as most of them can remember. Dumbledore, his late-arriving rabbit, certainly needed no introduction.
There was magic of the mind, too. Zen got us all standing, then whittled us down to one young girl, who seemed pre-ordained to be the “chosen one” – he’d even predicted her seat number. In the second half, Paul re-staged Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘spirit touch’ experiment, in which two volunteers simultaneously felt an invisible twitch at the back of their necks.
James combined old-school music hall stand-up larks with his conjuring, lulling us into thinking that a disappearing dice trick was a piece of corny Tommy Cooper twaddle, before making the impossible happen after all. And then there was Gary, opening the show with some classic playing card stunts.
Neil, the society’s secretary, made only two brief appearances, but his stunts were perhaps the most gasp-inducing of all. The string of a balloon was snipped away, piece by piece, only to re-emerge fully intact. And then, at the show’s end, he turned water into a thick flurry of paper snowflakes, which shot out from nowhere, filling the area at the front of the stage.
There were some minor niggles along the way – some fluffed lighting cues, background music which sometimes drowned out the performers, a couple of card tricks which were rather too similar to each other thereby diminishing the impact of the second trick – but the audience’s gasps, laughs and cheers told their own story. Bringing old-fashioned traditions firmly into the modern age, The Conjurors had us all spellbound.