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By: Sep. 27, 2011
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Chris Dugdale is the man who came very close to including Penn and Teller in the thousands he has fooled with his close-up conjuring and mindblowing mindreading. Gary Naylor met him to find out more about the man behind Two Faced Deception.

"It's more of a personal reflection with a lot of me in it", says Chris of his new show. "I'm naturally chirpy and happy, but there's also a serious side to me that audiences rarely see, so it's a combination of both." 

"We wanted to make it one show - no interval - the idea being that nearly everything that we do is totally original:this is organic to me. Most of the stuff is highly original to the show and 85% of it will not have be seen before. Magic is like music - you can only put a certain number of notes together to make a tune and it's the same with magic. You start backwards - you think of a plot and work backwards. The techniques involved I learned over many years and I combine them in different ways for different outcomes." 

"I always wanted to do what I did on Penn and Teller and be my own stooge. Up until recently, that's only been possible after six hours in make-up, but now you can do it with the technology. I get an idea at funny times of the day and night - I rush and write it down. Sometimes the ideas come more quickly after a few drinks!"

"On stage, I want to come across as smart, but approachable. It's all about trust, establishing it and then building it. Straight up, I make it clear that I'm in a position of power, so is it fair for me to get someone up on stage and take the piss out of them? It might get an easy laugh, but will anyone be prepared to go on stage when I ask later? I show my audience respect - sure we can have a laugh, but there's a level and a line that I don't cross. Then, when I come to the end which does depend on their trust in me, I get more people involved because they know I'm not going to turn on them. I've done the embarrassment stuff as a student, but not any more. I really respect my audiences, who give me their money and their time."

"I started at five years of age. I got a little magic set for Christmas. I didn't like reading much and my grandfather thought that if we read the instructions together and did a trick, it would encourage me to read other stuff. The reading didn't progress, but the magic did. I'm as fascinated by magic now as I was then. It's like learning the piano - if you complain about the practice, you're not really passionate about it. I've never hated practising my magic, so I know I really love it. I was obsessive, but you can be obsessive about magic quietly, flicking cards for hours while watching telly."

"I appreciate the history of magic - we take what we can learn from the past and progess it in the show. What I do is a mix of technology and sleight of hand. You have to see an act live. That's the problem with showbusiness today - the misunderstanding of talent. TV is easy for magicians - if it's not live, you can re-shoot it until it's perfect. We suit the show with the venue. Provided you get the A/V correct and you establish the rapport with the audience, you can play to 2000 people, as I have in the US."

"Lance Burton is the top magician working today, though he has just retired. Marko Karvo, a Finnish bird act, is very good; Mac King and Jeff Hobson - both American - too. I admire their technique, audience rapport and personality. There are many great technical magicians who can't pitch and there are many magicians who can really pitch, but don't have the technique - you have to combine the two to succeed. You need even more dedication to master the pitch than to master the technique - the number one fear for people is public speaking. When you get to a certain level in sport or in the arts, your biggest enemy is yourself. I love the psychology of performance - why some great actors are very quiet off stage."

"Technology can work for or against the magician. Now everyone knows that there are camera tricks, edits and post-production, I can see magic becoming very simple with simple props, but it will still depend on the audience. Though there's always going to be a market for big illusionists in Vegas, there's a yearning for organic sleight of hand, because people know that the card tricks and coin tricks demand technique. People are fascinated by mind control - my style is very different to Derren Brown's - and an act that packs down into one suitcase can play to an audience of 2000. The future of magic depends on how the public perceive the use of technology."

"I'm not blue and I like the idea of appealing to everyone, without being pigeonholed as a family entertainer - I have an edge, but not so much that kids would be too scared at a show. TV is what I want to crack, but in my way, with control of post-production. I'm not going down the route that others travel. For Penn and Teller to say that they would love to do my trick and be proud of it, was the soundbite I wanted - that was the publicity I was looking for. I used to live and work in Vegas, so another show there (as a prize) wouldn't help me. We've done a TV special - it's an hour long and we're looking for someone to pick it up. It has a theatrical element, but comes back to pieces in a restaurant and in the street. It has to be about my personality, done in my way, so I'm recognised for what I want to do. TV gives you the platform to expand theatrical work, gives you a ready-made audience, gets you noticed. I do very well in the States, but I love Europe too for very different reasons."

"Magic should be like a classic Bond movie - just this side of believable. You have to believe it can done - there's a line that if you cross, the magic backfires. Using camera effects to make something even more impossible, just doesn't register with audiences."

Chris Dugdale is as infectiously enthusiastic off-stage as on-stage, and a man in control of all aspects of his art. See him and see what I mean.

Chris Dugdale is at the Leicester Square Theatre until October 1.   




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