Review – Jamie Raven Live, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 22nd June 2016

Jamie RavenI have a confession to make, gentle reader – it’s been three weeks since I last saw a live performance. I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again. To break my fast, I suggested to Mrs Chrisparkle that we might like to see Jamie Raven Live. Although, let’s face it, we wouldn’t want to see him dead. “Who’s he?” she asked. “I don’t actually know,” I replied, “but I believe he does magic.” Mrs C looked at me askance. She appreciates that I like magic but she can’t conceal her own sense of irritation at the genre. “Go on then…” she said, with all the enthusiasm of a vegan opening a leather factory.

Jamie Raven came to prominence – as he tells us early in the show – by coming second on Britain’s Got Talent to a three-legged dog. And people ask us why we don’t watch it? Anyway, within the first three minutes of last night’s show, anyone who didn’t know who Mr Raven was, had been fully informed, as we watched clips from his BGT appearance and the judges going wild about him. We know it was three minutes as a digital clock counted down to Mr R’s arrival on stage. “Well that’s one way of padding out three minutes of a show”, sighed Mrs C dubiously, already regretting her decision to give way on this one.

J RavenHowever, then on came Mr Raven and the rest of the show was…well…magic. After his first trick, Mrs C was staring at me incredulously with an I take it all back, this guy is brilliant look. The evening is a showcase of a terrific blend of large-scale tricks (illusions? Experiences? Stunts?) that fill the entire stage and also close-up sleight of hand with individual members of the audience that we can all see by use of a close hand-held cam. He performed some tricks with the couple directly to our right so we were able to observe very close up at first hand – and he completely baffled us. The whole show is just under two hours of surprise after shock after how did he do that. Actually, there was one trick that we felt we might have guessed how he did it – maybe… slightly… but we’d have to watch it again to confirm. And then we’d probably be wrong anyway.

There were two aspects to his act that really impressed us as being “different”. Most magicians I’ve seen (mainly on TV) are, to some extent, a bit of a smartarse (and I mean that kindly). The late Paul Daniels, for instance – brilliant magician – had a persona that was cocky and confident. My other current favourite magician, Pete Firman, tempers that big-headedness into a funny self-deprecation. Jamie Raven doesn’t bother with this at all. He is extremely respectful and polite, meeting all his victims/volunteers with “Hi, I’m Jamie, pleased to meet you” or “Hi, I’m Jamie, nice to see you”. He’s an entertainer who never feels the need to make any of his public who help him with the tricks feel remotely threatened or alarmed – in fact he dispenses several hugs with genuine sincerity – and I feel that’s a most refreshing change; all the gentlemanliness of David Nixon but with 21st century bite.

JRThe other impressive thing (apart from his brilliant magic) – and what made him particularly stand out for Mrs C – was how modern and accessible the act felt. When he gave us his version of putting someone in a box and then piercing it with endless swords, only for them to emerge at the end completely unharmed, he didn’t use a glamorous Debbie McGee-type assistant (nothing against her of course) but one of his ordinary backstage guys in a black t-shirt who did it straightforwardly as part of his job and without any posing at all. Another of his tricks was to shake one can of Coca Cola so that it would explode if you opened it and then hide it amongst several others as a game of Explosive Coke Roulette. No glamorous champagne effects – just every day and realistic props. Definitely magic for today’s era.

I could tell you all the tricks he did but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for you if you’re going to see the show. Suffice to say, they stunned us all into amazed appreciation. But I have a couple of observations. Now, I don’t know how magic works (and I kinda like it that way). Somehow, if a magician does magic, it works and it’s magic (obviously). If I tried to do magic, it would fail because I don’t know how to do the trick. It’s black or white – you can or you can’t. So what I really don’t understand is, how can a magician get a trick nearly right? For that’s what happened with one of Mr R’s items last night. Basically it’s a routine that takes the concept of coincidence, but where he shows over a course of coincidences how actually unlikely a coincidental outcome is (if that makes sense). Five members of the public, wearing five badges, on five chairs, with five different colour pens colouring in five different parts of a drawing. The odds on Mr R predicting the outcome are not in four, five or six figures but about fourteen figures if I remember rightly. But one small part of the prediction was wrong; one aspect of the coincidence didn’t arise. How can that be? Either it works or it doesn’t, right? This isn’t a criticism of Mr R – although you felt he was annoyed with himself for not getting it entirely right – but to me it’s absolutely fascinating; maybe magic isn’t black or white after all.

Jamie RAnd another thing. There’s always that suggestion that there might be plants in the audience. I think that feeling has probably died out over recent years but I remember my dad was always convinced that was how magic took place – and in other areas of entertainment, you only have to look at One Man Two Guvnors, for example, to realise the possibilities are endless. For his final trick, Mr R had already identified in advance one card from a new pack that members of the audience would randomly choose. To select three members of the audience, he threw a ball blindly into the crowd and the first person to catch it had to to stand up and say whether or not they wanted it to be a red card or a black card. As he was introducing this trick, I just knew he was going to throw it at me. I was in Row F of the stalls, close enough to be visible from stage – maybe – but not close enough to be easily involved in the show. But I sensed he caught my eye. I knew I was going to catch that ball. I even swapped my plastic glass of Shiraz from my right hand to my left in expectation of a catch. “I’m going to throw the ball in this general area of the audience” he said, as he waved in my general direction. Then he turned around and lobbed it over his head. Sure enough, it landed in my lap. I stood up. “What colour suit would you like to choose” he asked me. I told him. (I won’t say it here, because I don’t want to influence any future shows!) But sure enough, I chose either red or black – and then had to throw the ball randomly to someone else – and it was someone I didn’t know – and they then chose one of the two suits in that colour, and then they had to chuck the ball to someone else to give the card a value. I won’t tell you how the trick resolves itself, but I can absolutely guarantee that a) I had no previous contact with Mr R, nor b) the other people who picked up the ball, so c) our choice of card was completely 100% random. But I don’t think it was random on his part because I am absolutely certain he deliberately chose me to pick the colour. Why, I don’t know. But I am sure it wasn’t an accident. One of life’s great mysteries!

Jamie Raven LiveRefreshingly fun for all the family – there were loads of children in and they got a fair say in the action too. His tour continues through June and July and also in November, throughout England and also Jersey and Inverness. Fantastic entertainment – I absolutely loved the show. And Mrs C did too – so hopefully I now have a new convert to magic! You should definitely go!