The Magic Castle at Seven Dials
We should have known that the gods weren’t with us when we arrived for rehearsals and found the Seven Dials dug up by the Council. They were doing road works. This stayed the same for the whole time we were at the Cambridge Theatre. No cars or taxis could get through, and when you did get near the theatre you had to walk through mud. What an omen and that was just the start of the cantata. No expense had been spared in the preproduction of the show. We had the best of everything. Robert Nesbitt oversaw the whole project. We had the wonderfully talented Dougie Squires, who staged the whole show brilliantly. Costumes and sets were designed by Peter Rice, who is known for designing costumes for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. We also had a 15 piece orchestra of session musicians who were the best. In fact you name it, we had it.
This photo was taken by a photographer who was standing on a plank over a hole in the road
Rehearsals went swimmingly for the first two weeks, in fact, the fast way that Dougie Squires works, the show was ready to open then and there. On the third week the “shit hit the fan”. We arrived to find that my co-star Johnny Hart had gone off to Spain to fulfill a contract he had already made in a cabaret for a month. Apparently he could not get out of the contract? The management hadn’t told us, in fact it was all of a mystery. This was supposed to be a first class West End show and the brain child of Mr. Johnny Hart. So there we were in limbo. Peter Hart, who was Johnny’s brother and also our Stage Manager and Illusion supervisor, stood in for him. But it was not the same thing and also the company, including myself, were just getting bored and tired with repeating the same things over and over again for the next four weeks.
During this time a lift had been installed into the stage because we had too many Illusions to keep on stage. So during the Interval all the props and Illusions used in the first act were taken down in the lift to the basement and the second act props and Illusions brought up. The powers that be decided that the 15 piece orchestra should be segregated down into the basement, which gave the audience the impression that the whole show was on tape. THE LUNATICS HAD TAKEN OVER THE ASYLUM! The reason, I was told, was that they would have lost 3 rows of seats. I said, “What the hell difference does 3 rows of seats make if you can fill up the rest of the theatre?” So we lost that wonderful feeling in the theatre when the orchestra tunes up and the excitement when the conductor strikes his baton and the show begins. Now that is magical in itself.
The Usherettes were not allowed to sell programmes in the auditorium because it might cause congestion! So you had to go out and buy a programme from the Reception. All the time I was being told that was Las Vegas Style. In my Act I was told that I couldn’t use Scorpio, my leopard, because Johnny was using a dog and there might be trouble with the animal rights people. I was told all this after I had signed my contract. There was no time for the 2 boys who were my assistants in the act to get changed into my act costumes so I had to put up with something else. My girl’s costume for my act, I was told, was too risque, so Katie Budd finished up in a jump suit. Very classy! My own act finished up a joke. It was understood that I would be performing all the large stage Illusions which I did to the best of my ability, but I was not happy. The atmosphere in the theatre you could cut with a knife. On the rare occasions that I did talk to Johnny, it was just to pass the time of day. Never before or since have I worked in such an atmosphere.
An ad from the Evening Standard prior to opening. As you see we previewed from the October 23rd. We did part of the show with Peter Hart standing in for Johnny. “UNBELIEVABLE!”, as the ad said. The audience were given their money back. Quite rightly so. I have no recollection of when Johnny finally retuned from Spain, but he was there for opening night on the 30th. But you see the rot had already set in before we had even opened. During the rehearsal period a table was set up in the centre isle of the theatre with a table cloth and silver ware and a half bottle of Champagne and a small pot of caviar with toast for Mr. Robert Nesbitt. By the third week, I had got to know his routine, so whenever he went on stage or got engrossed in something else away from the table, I would pour myself some champagne into a glass I had bought from home. Anything to pass the monotony of the daily grind. He never found out!
I had a visit during rehearsals from Harry Blackstone Jnr. and his wife Gay. Harry was one of the most famous Magicians in the whole world. Unfortunately he passed away in 1997.
“Beneath the Sands Of Time”
This beautiful Illusion set in Ancient Egypt showed a Golden Coffin which is shown empty lying on a plinth into which I placed ashes. This Illusion was invented by Kalanag and was known as the Multi Method Levitation. Slowly the coffin rises up away from the plinth. A silk is then placed over the coffin and slowly a form rises out of the coffin, disclosing a beautiful princess. I don’t think I have explained it too well, but the Illusion effect was quite stunning.
Nefertiti rises from her coffin and comes to life for a brief moment. She then returns and the coffin slowly lowers onto the plinth. The doors to the coffin are then opened to show it is empty and she has returned to dust. The whole scene was quite spectacular. I thought up the plot to go with the Illusion. I just always had to have a plot to work with from days gone by when I was an actor. Johnny Hart had brought all the Illusions from America, apart from mine, which I incorporated in my various scenes.
Another Illusion I had to work was the Stretching, which I wasn’t very keen about, but never the less it worked well. It was invented by Dick Zimmerman from the U.S.A. who told me when he saw it “That I had to pay him Royalties” I told him “Speak to the Management !” I did this with the lovely Andree Bernard, a very talented young lady
I was the Ringmaster in the circus scene and I performed 2 illusions. The first was the Three Tubes Trick, which used to take me 30 minutes to load with silks, streamers, flags, confetti, etc., etc., even a car, which all went to dress up the circus scene.
The second was the Crushing Illusion, both very effective.
The finale of the first half of “The Magic Touch” – Zee, a horse, and Johnny Hart. I never had to follow the horse with a bucket.
The whole sequence was quite stunning and unique, with beautiful costumes and fabulous Illusions, some of my own, but too many to mention.
The Twister Illusion
This is The Twister in which the girl is sliced in half and the top half is rotated 360 degrees. It was invented by Eric Lewis for me, and has since been copied by many magicians many times – without permission! Magicians are wonderful at stealing tricks and ideas.
The Double Sawing, in which we switched the half bodies of the girls. This was the only time I worked with Johnny in the Show. Thank God !
This is the ROBERT HARBIN Dice Box. He was my mentor and adviser, and he gave me this box as a present. I have never used the original because it was too small. I keep it in my store. This is a slightly larger one from which I produce flowers, umbrellas, flags, a chinchilla cat, a 4 metre square silk sheet, and finally my lady assistant. Just like that!
The Silk Sheet
Galactica with the “Impaling Illusion”.
I was the Evil One. You would never guess!
The finale of the Magic Touch and the end of the MAGIC CASTLE.