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Magic Night at Madame JoJo’s

Friday, 12 February, 2010

The last time I reviewed Magic Night for Fringe Report, in April 2009, it was an entertaining mix of gory and cuddly magic, with the quick change, rapid fire Canadian comedy magician Wes Zahurak being the pick of a great bunch. Sadly, the room lacked a bit in atmosphere, being less than full and with a somewhat subdued audience, though it was not for want of trying from the artists on the bill. Fast forward ten months and it’s a different event. The place is full, the audience, of some magic enthusiasts, a lot of Friday night just let out of jail office workers and gaggles of tanked up girls. Where have they been hiding?

Before the performance starts, there is a old film projected on the screen at the back of the stage of some of the classic magicians of the past such as Al Flosso, to warm the audience up for the show. The faded glamour and slightly tired décor of Madame JoJos seems like a perfect venue for a night of magic.

As is often the case with Magic Night, the evening is compered by the irrepressible and ever reliable Christian Lee. It’s not hard to explain why Christian Lee is the perfect host for such a raucous show but he is. He’s impossible to ignore and he has an infectious, puppy dog enthusiasm for magic and for engaging his audience. His mission is to make you laugh and he doesn’t care how silly his tricks are or how groan inducing his jokes are, that’s what he’s going to do. So a less than convincing bullet catch trick or a balancing of an egg on his nose is all part of the mix It’s not sophisticated but it works. He does a good MC job in keeping the momentum going throughout the evening.

This particular Magic Night is called Magic Night goes Mentalist. Mentalism is magic which appears to guess choices and predictions that couldn’t seemingly be known in advance by the magician. It’s a brand of magic which has proved very successful, for Derren Brown. The first performer up tonight, Anil Desai, nattily attired in a black leather jacket, is not a mentalist but an impressionist with a difference. His props are not wigs or other disguises but a packet of fifty two cards, each bearing the face of a different, well known celebrity. His act involves choosing a member of the audience to deal the cards and call out the name of the relevant celebrity who he then impersonates on the spot. The audience member who volunteers to come up is a tall, confident blond man in jeans and loafers and denim shirt, dressed suspiciously like a young Jeremy Clarkson and who turns out on closer inspection to be a trainee solicitor at the law firm where I work. He gives as good as he gets and both he and Anil Desai spark off each other in an entertaining manner.

Some of the impressions Anil Deasi does do feel a past their sell by date(Eddie Murphy anyone?) but other of his impressions are spot on. His talent for picking up the unique nuances and inflections in a particular actors voice, like the vocal mannerisms of Al Pacino Christian Slater for example. He manages to look like Robert De Niro or have you believe that he does, by facial contortions and expressions alone.. He teaches the with audience how to do a Clint Eastwood eyebrow raising impression which raises a few laughs.. A funny man and a great opening act to get the rowdy crowd going.

Next up was some mentalism in the form of the tall, besuitted Neil Henry, who the writer had previously seen MC ing Open Wand, a tryout for amateur magicians at Cellar Door in Aldwych. Tonight, following Desai, he seemed a little hesitant. Certainly, Desai proved a hard act to follow, whipping up the crowd’s enthusiasm, so Neil Henry had to work hard to get the audience back on track. Tonight he conducted something called The Time Out Challenge, where the names of certain shows listed in the magazine were duplicated on pieces of card and the girl volunteer shuffled the cards put them into her chosen order on a blackboard on stage, which turned out to be exactly the order listed in the magazine. He also performed a similar trick involving the selection of sexual diseases, which was certainly a novel post modern twist on the prediction trick. Neil Henry is a talented performer but was perhaps a bit too reserved for such a raucous crowd on this occasion. Definitely worth checking out though.

After the interview, it’s Tricity Vogue, glamorously dressed in a striking Chinese style long dressed slashed to the waist and wearing red feathers in her hair. She would not look out of place in any Madame JoJos night. She’s down on her luck in the love stakes and orchestra have deserted her so she says, so she’s going to have to create an orchestra sound all by herself. Needless to say the instrument she chooses is the ukulele and a pink one at that. She then riffs a bluesy number where it’s hard to imagine anyone getting more double entendes about playing her instrument into one song. A bit obvious, but she’s funny, cheeky and engaging with a strong cabaret style voice and her act goes down a storm.

Last up is young, up and coming mentalist Chris Cox. Described as the mind reader who can’t read minds, he is dressed casually in a Top of the Pops T-shirt and dark framed big glasses, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Morrisey. He’s as far removed from the old style dinner suited classical magicians of old, both in appearance and delivery, being a relaxed and amiable performer, who plays down any sense of how clever he is. By now the crowd is pretty drunk and loud and it’s often difficult to hear what’s going onstage as I am sitting towards the back. He runs off a string of predictions, the most impressive being the random selection by a member of the audience of a word in a book given to him by Chris Cox, the reveal being that the word chosen is already written on the back of his T-Shirt. He’s a strong performer with an impressive and clever array of mind reading tricks who probably struggled to fully impose himself this time around on a crowd who were drunkenly distracted by the end of the evening. I presume the bar takings at Madame JoJos that night were particularly good!

Magic Night has clearly grown in word of mouth popularity and deservedly so. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s an enjoyable Friday evening’s entertainment and a good way to kick off the weekend. The non mentalist Anil Desai, is the pick of the performers this time around.

Magic Night is on at Madame JoJos on the first Friday of every month.

Producer : Catia Ciarico; MC Christian Lee. Magicians – Anil Desai; Neil Henry; Tricity Vogue; Chris Cox. Light and sound Technician: Andy Louder

(c) Ruth Morris

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