As part of Cultures of Place, I’ve been busy rehearsing and preparing for Conan Doyle, Houdini, and the Davenport Brothers: Huddersfield Connections.

The event takes place on Friday 24th June at 6.30pm.  Link to book in the title (above) Here’s what to expect..

The Davenports play Huddersfield

Written and performed by Dr Nik Taylor

c. 1855 the Davenport bothers, William and Ira, following closely in the wake of the famous spiritualist mediums the Fox Sisters, began offering Spiritualist séances in New York. Unlike the Fox sisters who relied on ‘rappings’ to seemingly facilitate spirit contact, the Davenports toured with a large wooden cabinet in which they would be tied, the cabinet would be closed, and various spirit manifestations would occur. They would often conclude the evening with a private ‘dark séance’. In 1865 the Davenports brought their cabinet to Europe. Controversies, arguments and riots followed them throughout.

On Tuesday February 21st at eight o’clock, the Davenports played Huddersfield’s Philosophical Hall.

This is the story of that night

The Return of the Davenports – a one-act play

by Dr Merrick Burrow

Directed by Dr Nik Taylor
Magic Advisor – Ashton Carter

Paul Voodini – Arthur Conan-Doyle
Luke Robson – Harry Houdini
Adelina Sewell – Delicia Freeman

Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Davenport brothers all presented supernatural entertainments to the people of Huddersfield. The Davenports brought their Cabinet Séance act in 1865, only to be run out of town by an angry mob. Houdini performed in 1903 and 1911, when he used conjuring tricks to debunk spiritualist beliefs. Conan Doyle, who believed Houdini secretly possessed psychic powers, lectured in support of spiritualism in 1919. Psychic controversies marked the beginning of Doyle and Houdini’s friendship when they met the following year, and they brought it to an end two years later, when the two men fell out over a supposed spirit communication from Houdini’s dead mother. The Return of the Davenports invites you to join us as we summon their spirits back to Huddersfield for one last performance.

Deduction, Deception, Or Something More?  

Written and performed by Professor Todd Landman. 

Panel Discussion – Performance, deception, and place

Chaired by Professor Todd Landman

Following the performances there will be a panel discussion and Q&A where the writers and performers will be joined by The Cast, Stuart Nolan, and Careena Fenton.

Contributors, Consultants and Performers

Dr Merrick Burrow 
Merrick Burrow is Head of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield. He is the curator of The Cottingley Fairies: A Study in Deception, an exhibition at the Brotherton Library to mark the centenary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s publication of fairy photographs in the Strand magazine (which runs until November 2022). There is an online version of the exhibition for Google Arts and Culture Cottingley Fairies — Google Arts & Culture. He has published research on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and his growing interest in spiritualism during the 1890s. He has contributed to panel discussions and given public lectures on Conan Doyle’s psychic interests and has produced videos for the National Science and Media Museum on the Cottingley fairies. He is currently in the process of completing a book on the history of deception.
Dr Nik Taylor
Nik Taylor is co-editor of The Journal of Performance Magic. He has worked as a performer, writer, and director; on numerous projects in the UK, Germany, and France. As a research magician, he is coordinator of the Magic Research Group and has recently completed a short film on the Victorian Parlour Séance. He is currently writing a monograph examining the cultural history of performance magic. As a performer, Nik specializes in Bizarre Magick, Sideshow, Séance and Divination. He co-curates Mr Punch’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a dark museum of weird and haunted artefacts. He worked has worked a magic adviser for the Thackray Medical Museum and Proper Job Theatre Company and performed in Hester Reeve’s YMEDACA at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Most recently he was a judge on the Hex Factor. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and The British Society of Mystery Entertainers.
Andy Cooper
Andy Cooper performing as ‘Ashton Carter’ is a magician, storyteller, prop maker and independent scholar. Ashton is heavily influenced by the ghost stories and weird fiction of the early 20th century, 19th century spiritualism and the paranormal. Ashton has an interest in magic history and how performance, character, LARP, props and environmental effects can be combined to create immersive and interactive environments. He is a member of The British Society of Mystery Entertainers, Equity and an Associate of the Magic Research Group.
Careena Fenton-Cullen
Careena Fenton-Cullen is a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on the intersection of Spiritualism, Witchcraft and Performance Magic. She is a magician and member of the Magic Circle. She performs bizarre magic, which blends storytelling with effects and theatrical séance magic. Part of her PhD research is practical, so she conducts practice as research alongside traditional research methods
Professor Todd Landman
Todd Landman is the Academic Magician, combining his work as a professor of political science with his work as a professional performance magician. He is Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield, Associate of the Inner Magic Circle, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Stuart Nolan
Stuart Nolan is a performer and an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA), Lancaster University. His current work applies Performance Philosophy and autoethnography to critical neuroscience and explores the cultural history of theatrical and philosophical mentalism.
Luke Robson
Since childhood, Luke Robson has had a long standing fascination with the life and work of Harry Houdini. He has been performing magic for almost 10 years and was recently awarded the Hex Factor trophy at the Doomsday magic convention for a routine inspired by Houdini. Luke has also worked extensively in theatre management and has a Masters degree in theatre studies from Central School of Speech and Drama. He is delighted to be uniting his passions of Houdini, history and performance in this production.
Adelina Sewell
Adelina Sewell is a performer, choreographer and writer. She has received the Gold Arts Award for her writing and is an alumna of The University of Huddersfield. As well as running Rogues Theatre Company, Adelina is a successful content creator on TikTok and employed as an influencer; modelling, promoting and collaborating with a number of named brands. Adelina also really wants to be a wizard.
Paul Voodini
Paul Voodini is a performer, writer, and lecturer specialising in Victorian Spiritualism and all things spooky, gothic, and ghostly. His mother gave birth to him in a Sisters of Mercy convent (the nuns not to goth rock band, sadly). Quite why his parents took this action has never been satisfactorily explained, but it would appear that they knew more than they ever let on. and