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Encore Mgazine

The Magic of Theatre

March 2010

As a proud Trustee of The Story Museum in Oxford, I am delighted with the news that, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, we now have a building in a great, central position opposite Christ Church.  Now the major fundraising begins to refurbish and equip the proposed exhibition areas and theatre, which will provide enjoyment, entertainment and education for children and adults for generations to come.  Although the most obvious focus will be on children’s books, theatre as well as film and television will get a look in, acknowledging the fact that most of us experience stories from all these sources. 

It has been my good fortune to adapt for the stage some of the most popular children’s stories, including THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl, Judith Kerr’s THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA, Eric Hill’s SPOT’S BIRTHDAY PARTY and Pienkowski and Nicoll’s MEG AND MOG.  In all of them magic is a major ingredient, and it was inevitable, bearing in mind my other hat as a children’s magician, that I should incorporate magic and illusion in the plays.  By the time you read this, I will have delivered my new lecture, ‘THE MAGIC OF THEATRE’ to The Magic Circle, celebrating the use of the art of magic to help tell the story, and explaining how important it is for the magic adviser on the production to liaise from day one with the designer, so that the magic becomes integral to the production rather than added on at the last moment.  The lecture is in part a tribute to the brilliant FAB FOUR magic advisers who have assisted me when directing the plays – George ‘The Great’ Kovari, Paul Kieve, Geoffrey Durham and Scott Penrose.

It was by happy coincidence that while polishing up my lecture notes and getting together video clips, I bumped into - at The Stage Annual Party – the top magician and former long-serving ENCORE columnist, John Wade, who has often acted as magic adviser to theatre productions, most notably THE NUTCRACKER for the Royal Birmingham Ballet.  John’s lifetime in show business makes him one of the most knowledgeable and delightful of raconteurs.  And he has always been very generous with his time and advice to younger performers.  Back in the late 50s he was appearing in a summer show called GAIETY AT EIGHT (not a title we are likely to see today) at the Esplanade Theatre, Bognor Regis.  In the audience was an aspiring teenage magician – yours truly – who plucked up the courage to ask to venture backstage and meet Mr Wade.  Not only did John give up considerable time to seriously talk magic with me, but he invited me back on another day to meet the other performers, thereby helping to confirm to me that the stage was where I belonged.  Thank you, John, for being, both then and now, a true gentleman of the theatre.  I still have, and treasure, a signed copy of your publicity brochure from the 50s – with your witty byline – ‘The Patter of Magic Feats’.

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