The downside of performing in a multi-show venue must surely be that you may have very little time to set up a show beforehand — often little more than 10 minutes — while always keeping an eye on the clock (or, in this case, a carefully concealed iPhone) in order not to overrun your allotted slot. For audiences, the downside of attending a multi-show venue is that there’s invariably a rush to get them in and out of increasingly airless rooms, complicated further when a mix-up at the box office ensures more tickets have been issued for a particular show than there are seats in the auditorium.
Yet, if magician Rob James felt under any pressure, it certainly didn’t show. His relaxed manner quickly put even the grumpiest audience member (ahem!) at ease or, rather, in a continuous state of bewilderment as James went on to prove why we should never trust a magician (they make fake things look real and real things look fake). From undoing the seemingly strongest handkerchief knots to repeatedly stealing an increasingly flustered audience member’s watch and wallet, James is a personable source of amazement.
Many of the tricks in this show have a long pedigree; most obviously the old cups and balls routine which James theatrically “refused” to perform, instead getting a lady from the front row up on stage to give it a go. Certainly, James is a magician who is keen to get his audience involved — even this reviewer was invited on stage at one point (press badge around his neck). One unexpected risk of this kind of audience participation is, as shown during his opening show, that his lunchtime patrons need to work on it a little more — one woman in particular seemed literally stunned when asked to perform the unfeasibly difficult task of choosing a number between one and nine!
James’ act is neither Las Vegas-scale spectacle nor a cynical reinvention for some post-punk generation; his focus is very much on sharing with audiences some of the most historic and traditional magic tricks around. That he performs them with such an effortless and amiable demeanor makes you truly believe that he isn’t interested in showing off how clever and skilled he actually is — he just wants to share a little magic.