In the 19th century (2) the Theatre of Magic took many forms, the Legitimate, the Scientific and the Spiritual. But real magic blurs the boundaries between these forms. An audience would be able to see a performance of magic as magic, or the performance of magic as reality.
Professor Pepper, who first performed his ghost on Christmas Eve 1862, had intended to give a scientific lecture on the ghost’s principles and secrets after every show. Instead he saw the audience’s stunned looks, heard their wild applause and cut the explanation from the performance. He had made Pepper’s Ghost into a magical illusion. He had turned a scientific demonstration into a Magic Show. (3)
The Davenport brothers performed their magic as a lecture demonstration proving the existence of spirits. However, they would never make it clear that they were magicians, which infuriated their audiences who did not respond well to the blurring of forms. They would often cause near riots wherever they played, and were chased out of Huddersfield during a performance here in February 1865. (4)
The Egyptian Hall was at the centre of 19th and early 20th Century Magic. Initially an Egyptian themed building that would house an ever-changing series of curiosities and exhibits, it later came under the control of the great magic family the Maskelynes and soon became England’s Home of Mystery. Here they would present, along with a programme of theatrical magic and illusion, illustrated lectures about the charlatanry of spiritualism. (5)
The blurring of forms is something that the magician relies on and can still be seen today in the work of such conjurers, magicians and fraudsters as Derren Brown, Uri Geller and Derek Acorah.
Tonight’s performance is the culmination of a process of devising through research. We explored The Egyptian Hall, magic and the related arts. The journey has taken us from Professor Hoffman’s early work in codifying for generations what a stereotypical Victorian conjurer should be, (6) through to looking at other conjurers and characters, magical developments and magical places. Finally, we sorted, played and devised with the wealth of material generated, and this is our performance.
The characters and events you see tonight may have existed or happened and they may not have. We are not going to tell you when we lie or when we tell the truth. It is magic so it doesn’t matter and we keep our secrets.
Remember, everything we tell you is a lie. Oh, and so was that.
Anon. (2003). The Egyptian Hall. [online] Available at: http://www.georgianindex.net/Bullocks/Egyptian_Hall.html [Accessed November 1st, 2007]
Christopher, M., & Christopher, M. (2006). The Illustrated History of Magic. New York: Carroll & Graf.
Comedy Central Presents. Episode 47 (2001) The Amazing Johnathan. Comedy Central, June 25
Dawes, A. (2007). The Female of the Species: Magiciennes of the Victorian and Edwardian Era. Early Popular Visual Culture, 5(2), 127-150.
Eugene Burger’s Magical Voyages. Directed by Max Maven. USA. L&L publishing. [DVD]
From Hell (2001) Directed by A & A Hughes. USA, 20th Century Fox [Film: 35mm]
Hands of the Ripper (1971) Directed by Peter Sasdy. UK, Hammer Film Productions [Film: 35mm]
Harland-Oxley, W. E. (1905). The Egyptian Hall Piccadilly. Notes and Queries, S10(11), 411-412.
Heard, M. (2006). Phantasmagoria. Hastings: The Projection Box.
Hoffman, P. (1876). Modern Magic: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Conjuring. London: George Routledge and Sons.
Jenness, G. A. (1967). Maskelyne and Cooke: Egyptian Hall, London, 1873-1904. London: H. Clarke & Co.
Lamont, P. (2004). The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick. London: Abacus.
Lamont, P. (2005). The First Psychic. London: Abacus.
Lloyd, A. (2004). The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London. [online] Available at: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/EgyptianHallPiccadilly.htm [Accessed October 15th, 2007]
Magicusa (2007) Houdini Biography: Harry Houdini Magician-Escape Artist. [online] Availible at: <> [Accessed November 1st, 2007]
Sharpe, S. (1976). The Magic Play. Chicago: Magic Inc.
Steinmeyer, J. (2003). Hiding the Elephant. How Magicians Invented the Impossible. London: Arrow.
Steinmeyer, J. (2005). The Glorious Deception. New York: Carroll & Graf.
Steinmeyer, J. (2006). Art & Artifice and Other Essays on Illusions. New York: Carroll & Graf.
Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30. (1960). (Vol. 2007). London: English Heritage.
Timbs, J. (1865). The Curiosities of London. London: John Camden Hotten.
Topsy-Turvy (1999) Directed by Mike Leigh. UK, October Films [Film: 35mm]
(1) Eugene Burger tells us; “One of the wonderful things about magic is that it teaches you to live without guilt.”
(2) Often called the Golden Age of Magic.
(3) Steinmeyer (2003)
(4) Steinmeyer (2003)
(5) Jenness (1967)
(6) Hoffman (1876)