Grand Illusions

Last night, Loches played host to an illusionist show that was rather out of the ordinary. Husband and wife team, Grego and Cécile, along with their assistants, were on stage for the very first time. And the show was highly professional. My wife only noticed one little slip-up in a rope trick, but I missed it – and I’m no stranger to magic, albeit table magic, and no stranger to bungled tricks either, à la Tommy Cooper. 

The illusionist couple live and work locally, many of their colleagues were in the packed house at the Espace Agnès Sorel, and there was a jovial neighbourly atmosphere to the whole event. Adults, incidentally, far outnumbered children in the audience. For a first performance, their investment in costly stage props was staggering, unless – which seems unlikely – they made them themselves. There must have been tens of thousands of euros’ worth of stage gear, from boxes and cages to tables and a fake washing machine that fell out of the sky to an extraordinary steampunk number at the end, when Grego and Cécile in different Tardis-like flashing boxes exchanged places in the blink of an eye. Throughout it all, Grego and Cécile acted with warmth, enthusiasm, verve and astonishing skill. 

 I found myself wondering: do they practise this stuff in the kitchen, or in the living room, at home? How did they get the gear here? Certainly not in the boot of the car! Do they also have a gigantic pantechnicon parked outside?

There were illusions of all sorts: a levitating silver ball that obeyed the commands of Grego, a complex trick using two piles of numbered cubes, rope tricks, and a very convincing levitating woman routine. Our little friend Emma was there with her grandparents, Jonathan and Tricia, and it was her ninth birthday: to her delight, she was called up on stage to assist with a rope trick.

By far the greater number of illusions involved a lady in a box. Cécile was handcuffed and chained into one box from which she mysteriously disappeared. She was locked in another that was then set fire to, and of course she survived. She was stuffed into a wicker basket that was then lanced with terrifying looking sabres. When she lost a game of noughts and crosses, she was put into another box and enormous butcher’s blades were shoved in, apparently slicing her like salami. She was put onto an operating table, strapped head and foot with leather – the straps being held taut by two male members of the audience – boxed up, and then sliced in half. There seemed to be no end to the ingenious and murderous torments to which she was subjected.

I began to ask myself serious questions. Why is it always the scantily clad woman who is put in the box and carved, segmented, incinerated or skewered? Well it’s true – it’s never the man! On top of that, it’s his wife. Could it be that in this age of political correctness – when in some countries it’s now a crime to wolf-whistle at a passing woman – this medieval if highly theatricalised misogyny is the last bastion of a certain kind of otherwise taboo male fantasy? And yet, to all outward appearances, it’s a family show! One of the culminating numbers was when, accompanied by a kind of grim reaper figure, she was impaled on a spike on the top of a skull-topped tombstone and spun round like a top. Was I imagining it, or was the truly hearty applause coming from the husbands in the audience?

There was, however, one inadvertently scary moment. In the Tardis body-exchange number, a hooded, masked figure came in with a trolley of gas canisters and an enormous blast gun which he turned on the audience, sending a plume of dry ice smoke into the auditorium. In the light of certain mass shootings in concert halls, cinemas and music festivals, where the crepitation of gunfire was initially taken for fireworks, this was definitely not a good idea…

Be that as it may, a great time was had by one and all. And I could hardly finish this blog post without an illusionist joke, could I?

“What’s your father’s profession?” asked the teacher on the first day of the school year. “He’s a magician, miss,” said the new boy. “How interesting! What’s his favourite trick?” “He saws people in half.” “Gosh. Do you have any brothers and sisters?” “Yes miss, one half brother and two half sisters.”

© 2017 Adrian Mathews