Seven magicians provide escapist entertainment
'The Illusionists' promise to mystify with mentalism, conjuring and trickery on a grand scale
Posted: October 16, 2013
Large-scale tricks like this escape are mixed with close-up magic shown live on giant screens in an arena setting.
Magic shows have a hard time these days. People are so used to digital special effects that it is hard to impress people with some mere sleight of hand or old parlor tricks. Most illusionists have had to push their effects into unbelievable realms to attract an audience. And attention spans have gotten shorter, meaning one act won't thrill people for two solid hours.
A giant magic extravaganza called The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible will be visiting Prague for one show Nov. 9 at O2 Arena. Acts include an escape artist, a conjuror and his assistant, an "anti-conjuror" who does shocking horror tricks, a mad inventor and a humorous trickster.
Philip Escoffey, a Swiss mentalist who performs mind-reading tricks, gave an overview of the show and his own act. He says that despite the size of the venue, magic still works.
"There are three enormous screens. And there is a lot of interaction with the audience. People come out into the audience and there is a lot of interaction, not just with the people in the front row," Escoffey told The Prague Post. "The audience is really intimately involved in the show, even in the back," he added.
When: Nov. 9 at 3 and 8 p.m.
Where: O2 Arena
Tickets: 950-1,350 Kč
He also said that the show lives up to the hype. "I was very reluctant to be part of a lineup show," he said, adding that none of the acts are named in the advertising. "We're a group. We're a bit like the British weather. If you're not enjoying it, give it 10 minutes and something else will come along," he said.
"There are people who don't particularly like me or what I do; then there are those that really like what I do. [Macabre anti-conjuror] Dan [Sperry] is the same. He divides people. He wasn't hugged enough as a child, there is no escaping it. He has that cross to bear," he said facetiously. "Of course back stage he is the gentlest, sweetest [person]. He is a real sensitive soul," he said. Sperry's Youtube videos have more than 15 million views.
He also had praise for Kevin James, who aside from his own act designs illusions for other magicians and for films. "And then you've got that guy, not known [by name] with the public so much, but Kevin James is huge," he said. Escoffey, Sperry and James came to Prague ahead of the start of the European tour to promote the show.
While some artists like James have adopted a bigger-is-better style to deal with the large arenas, Escoffey will simply try to mesmerize the crowd. His act is very language-based, and he is a bit concerned. "I'll try to do it in German in Germany, French is good for me, it's my first language," he said. For Czech, he will partly use a translator. "It slows it down a lot. A lot is lost in translation," he said, adding that he would seek volunteers from the audience who have a good grasp of English. Other acts are luckier in this regard. "With people like Kevin, he talks very little in his act," he said.
Escoffey mentioned a Polish-born magician from the 1960s, Chan Canasta, as one his personal heroes who first interested him in mentalism. Canasta originally did card tricks and took his stage name from a card game. He established himself in Britain after World War II and pioneered magic on TV.
Escoffey also looks to science. "My personal interest and passion is the psychology of belief so my influences come from people who have done work in that area," he said.
He turned mentalism and mind reading into a show because he saw it as the right vehicle for the points he wants to make about belief and how easily manipulated people's beliefs are. "I came to magic very late," he said. He does stress that what he does is based on math and probability, and that he has no real special powers.
"Last year in America alone $6 billion was spent on psychics," he said, adding that he also tries to expose this type of fraud.
But for The Illusionists, he is concentrating on giving people a good time and not teaching lessons. "My job is to make you forget yours," he said.
This is the first in a three-part series of interviews with illusionists from the show.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at