So. I got a text message from a dragon, who wanted to know if I'd like to come and play at the Magic Circle on Monday. Even though I've been involved in variety for, oh, about 75 years now, I'd never actually been to the magic circle. I occasionally play magic conventions, where I joke about what a mistake it was for them to allow a juggler into their secret world. Jugglers, I claim, are the sworn enemies of the magician. But I like a good magician as much as a good anything else, and - as the phrase goes - many of my best friends are magicians, so yes, I wanted to go.
If I'm being completely honest, part of the reason for me going might have been a sickeningly ironic exploration into a place I had many pre-conceived ideas about. Much as I try to stay sincere in these matters, it's all too easy to think that the magic circle might just be a sad place, full of tubby men in cheap suits boring each other with card tricks. There was, and it pains me to say this, a certain morbid curiosity.
It didn't last long though. It's exactly what it should be. A heavy anonymous door, with a cryptic design on the front, leads you into somewhere quite special. My friends Maria and Amelie showed me around, and quickly I realised that this was my kind of place. Upstairs, we strolled around the museum, glass cases full of real treasures - Houdini's handcuffs, Chung Ling Soo's robes, Prince Charles' cups and balls set, whole shelves full of different designs of bang flag guns! - and then things got emotional - Tommy Coopers' bottles and glasses. Stuff from David Nixon and Paul Daniels. gems from my childhood in glass cases, before my very eyes. Lump in my throat.
This is a place where the history of my artform (or at least an artform very closely related to mine) is recorded, respected, loved and celebrated. And not just in glass cases. Downstairs in the bar, grey haired magicians, some of them in their 90's, chat to young starry eyed conjurers - wisdom being imparted from wizards. Go up one flight of stairs and there's a fully equipped theatre, where there are regular shows. This is a museum, a social club, a university and an inspiration. People from all walks of life glorying in their love of a shared craft. I loved it, and yes, I'm seriously considering joining - if they have jugglers (we are, after all, the sworn enemy..). I like talking to old men about variety, and this looks like the motherlode.
I performed in the magic circle theatre that night. A couple of magician friends had warned me on twitter that the audience there could be a bit odd, and I can see what they meant, but they were lovely. Occasionally they chose to laugh at things audiences dont usually laugh at, and not at things that audiences do usually laugh at, but on the whole, I had fun. Also I was very proud of a gag I wrote that is only suitable for shows at the magic circle. Something about elephants.
Afterwards I hung out in the bar, caught up with a few magician friends, and got introduced to the awesome and elegant Gay Blackstone - widow of the great American illusionist Harry Blackstone Jr, and genuine magic royalty. "I'm Gay Blackstone", she said as she took my hand, "from the Magic Castle.." - which, as an introduction, you gotta love. She was very complimentary about my work, so I was left with a silly grin on my face and more determined that I might want to be in this secret club.
I wrote a column for Time Out a couple of weeks ago, which, if you missed it, you can see above - click the image to see it bigger, or read it online here. I'd dreamt of writing something for Time Out since my late teens, so this was pretty cool for me. Hope you like.
The next Mat Ricardo's London Varieties will take place on April the 12th, and it's going to be a cracker. The Boy With Tape On His Face, Morgan & West, Paul Dabek, Lenny Beige, a whole new routine from me, and TAP DANCING! The last one sold out, so be sure to get your tickets now!
Also, I'll be doing my one man show "Three Balls and a new Suit" at the Brighton Fringe on the 7th and 17th of May - it'll be the last time I do this show for a while, so if you haven't seen it and want to, click here.