‘Our mantra is bringing amazement to unusual places’

31 Jul 2012 @ 10.30 pm
| Entertainment

A new group of magicians and mentalists are brain storming York with their Psychic Cabaret. Chris Titley talked to two of them about magic York, Derren Brown and being buried alive – and has his mind boggled on video

Meet the men of mystery

Luke Jermay describes himself as a mind-reader and mentalist. In fact the star of the US TV show The Mentalist, Simon Baker, described Luke as “really, really amazing”. Luke has worked with Derren Brown, Dynamo and David Blaine among others. His York show, the Psychic Cabaret, is back boggling minds at The Basement, City Screen, York, on Thursday, August 2

Born and bred in York, Craig Stephenson spent eight years in London before returning to bring his special brand of grown-up magic to his home town. Often improvised, always interactive, Craig’s show makes use of outrageous props and astonishing trickery to baffle the audience. He works with Luke on Psychic Cabaret and is launching his own show Amazed.

You call your collective Magical Events. What’s that all about?

Luke: We’re a group of performers, consultants and creators in what we call the ‘mystery arts’. I can never work out if that sounds cool or corny to be honest. That might be magic, mind-reading or illusion.

I moved here six months ago. In my initial explorations of the city I decided to find out who in my industry lived here, and realised there was a really good collection of people. So we formed Magical Events as a provider of various events at different venues, and Psychic Cabaret is one.

We take a different approach, by trying to do our shows in unconventional places. You don’t think of seeing a magic show in a nightclub, or a mind reading show in a punk rock music venue underneath a cinema. But if the shows are good, people will love them wherever they are. Our mantra now is bringing amazement to unusual places.

Why York?

Luke: I lived in Las Vegas for about ten years. I had a show on the Las Vegas strip, two times a night, five nights a week and four times on Saturday. So I got back to England very tired! I moved back to London where I’m from, but then I did a show at The Basement last December – it was great fun, there was demand to do another one. And I decided I really liked this city. I describe it to everyone in London as being the nice bits of London without any of the horrible bits.

Craig: I’m from York originally, although I lived in London for eight years. I came back to York about four years ago. I just love this city.

In the three years I’ve been performing in York there’s a definite interest in the mystery arts. Perhaps it’s part of the gothic-medieval feel of the city, but there is interest in that world. And it can only get stronger.

What started the modern interest in magic?

Luke: With David Blaine came along what we consider the new magic. I’ve worked with Blaine and he’s a really good friend of mine and I’ve a lot of respect for him. He more or less came along and invented a TV format that we now know as magic on television. But there’s no substitute to experience magic, mind reading or any of the mystery arts in person.

Craig: Two years ago it would have been very difficult to watch magic on stage in York. In the last year, Luke’s been doing some shows, I’ve had some shows, and there’s a growing interest in that cabaret-style night.

What are your shows all about?

Luke: My job throughout an evening is to work out things about people. That might be the name of the first person they kissed, it might be the colour of their underwear. One of the great things about it is every single show is different. It has the sense of stand-up comedy to it. It’s highly interactive.

Craig: Again, my show is very interactive. I like to take some of the oldest plots of magic and make it very theatrical, very comical. Last time I was with Luke it was essentially a card trick but it involved some very large staple guns and a game of Russian Roulette. I like to take people on a theatrical journey.

Do people freak out?

Luke: Sometimes people think, ‘a mind-reader, how cute’. And then 15 minutes in they start to think maybe there’s a bit more to it than we expected. They get terrified for 20 minutes then come to life and you have to throw them off the stage or they’d never leave.

Are Derren Brown and David Blaine as intense as they seem on screen?

Luke: David Blaine‘s actually a very funny man. Very funny, very charming. Of all the people I know, Blaine is the most driven to a vision, and unflinching with that vision. No matter what the critics say, no matter what his friends say. In that sense he’s a true artist. His persona is that of a hugely intense shamanic strange man.

Whereas Derren Brown is the ultimate charming cad. Derren is one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever known, not only as a performer but as a person.

Derren has a very strong ethical stance – anybody saying they’ve got supernatural powers is a scumbag. I don’t know if that’s true; I don’t know for a fact that they don’t have supernatural powers. I come from a background of creating scientific ways of making these things happen. Dynamo doesn’t have superpowers, he’s a magician. We work out methods for these things.

Does it take a lot of work to become a magician?

Craig: A lot of practice goes into it. I’ve been doing this since watching Paul Daniels as a small boy. It’s always been there, it’s always been a passion. I’ve been performing ever since university, starting off to impress friends or people in the bar until you realise it’s what you want to do.

What are your ambitions?

Luke: I’d like to bury myself alive so I can predict the future. If you look into tribal societies you see what we in the West call remote viewing. The CIA spent a lot of money developing this during the Cold War, believe it or not. There’s a lot to be said for sensory deprivation resulting in intuitive insights. If the sensory deprivation was that high, what might it do for other ways of perceiving and understanding?

Craig: I don’t want to bury myself alive. Luke can take over that part of the business. There’s no one illusion I really say, ‘that’s what I want to do’. But it’s inherent in all magicians, we’re always trying to stretch ourselves and keep the audience fresh.