Image © Helen Maybanks

Impossible: Inteview with Jamie Allan

Imogen Greenberg

Jamie Allan is a magician, whose shows use technology to create new tricks that amaze and delight. London Calling caught up with him ahead of the new West End show Impossible, where he takes to the stage alongside some of the other biggest names in magic...

London Calling: How did you first get in to ‘magic’?

Jamie Allan: When I was younger, my parents were in showbiz but they stopped touring so I could go to school. They bought a pub called ‘The Horse and Jockey’ in Market Bosworth and one night there, I saw a magician John Milner performing a levitation trick where he made a lady float on two chairs. I remember I was so amazed and turned to my dad and said ‘How is that possible? How can he do that?!’ And rather than tell me he was a wizard or it was magic, my dad told me exactly how he did the trick!

I was then fascinated with magic and when I was 8, I started going to a magic teacher called John McDill who taught me classical magic. I remember him asking me how many tricks I knew and I said ‘Over 100’ and he told me that he only knew 7 tricks, all of which he had mastered. That’s what it takes to be a great magician, to master tricks and that’s why I focus on technology with magic.  

LC: You’re known for fusing old magic tricks with new technology. What came first, the interest in magic or new technologies?

JA: I started using technology to use items people are familiar with today and do something with them that is extraordinary, something that surprises them. When you bring out a magic box, everyone looks at it like ‘It’s a Magic box’ and expects you to pull something out of it. But when you pull something out of an I-Pad that has the surprise factor.

I also think that there is always going to be new technology and by that my act will never get old. With magic, there is really only 5 things that you can do; make people disappear, appear, levitate, pass something solid through another and break something and then put it back together. All magic tricks are based on these genres and I use technology to try to find things that don’t exist within them. For example, I have this trick with a laser that bends the light, which you can’t put into those five categories.

LC: Magic has always played on ideas of the unknown to shock and surprise audiences. Do you think digital is that big new unknown?

JA: Technology is everywhere. Everyone always thinks that technology can’t get any better but it always does. In a way, technology replaces magic, making some tricks seem redundant. Magic surprises people and gives them a sense of wonder and technology does that too.

LC: What’s your most impressive stunt you’re performing at the moment?

JA: I have a couple of new routines, which I will be premiering in Impossible. One includes levitation and lasers and the other is a twist on manipulation using playing cards.

LC: What’s the worst/most memorable fail you’ve had on stage?

JA: I was doing the classic Houdini Metamorphosis trick where I was locked in a box and my assistant was outside with the key. The idea is that the audience see her put the key in a glass bowl at the front of the stage and then through magic, we swap places where I am outside and she is in the box. However, when I went to get the key from the box, it was empty and I had to ask an audience member where she put the key! She had put it in her pocket and I had to push the box off stage with her still inside!

LC:  How much does an audience’s willingness to get involved change the shows?

JA: The audience means everything. Magicians are trying to create a sense of wonder, to take you back to when you were a child before the world made you sceptical. As an audience member you have to let go. Audiences often come in and want to work out everything, how each trick is done.  A good magician will make you forget that and the audience’s willingness to go with you is paramount.

LC: What’s it like being on a bill with the other magicians performing in Impossible? Whose work do you most admire?

JA: I’ve never worked with other magicians in a professional show before. I have worked with a lot in conventions but this set up is exciting.  The comradery is great and I think the show off stage will be just as brilliant. I’m excited to work with Luis de Matos as he is a giant amongst magicians. I’m also looking forward to working with Jonathan Goodwin, who is crazy in the nicest way and we all love him. I know Ali Cook, we share ideas and talk on the phone a lot. I respect everybody in the show and I’m excited to see what comes out of it! 

LC: What can we expect from your segment of Impossible?

JA: Levitation with lasers, Digital Art, a magical tribute to Steve Jobs and I saw a lady in half with a laser Beam.

LC: Are you experimenting with any new forms of magic at the moment?

JA: Yes, very much so. I am doing a lot of Hologram technology and augmented reality. I am constantly trying to identify new technologies that have a magical quality. I work with Tommy Bond in studios looking at new equipment and toys. Interestingly, there is a lot of technology that I find fascinating, like motion sensors, but that I can’t find magical applications for.

LC: Do you get good reactions when you tell people you’re a magician?

JA: Nowadays I do but in the old days there used to be a bit of a stigma about being a magician so I used to say I was an entertainer. I always thought magicians were cool and I think recently it has changed for everyone because of programmes like Britain’s Got Talent which have really made magic cool again.

LC:  You’ve a day of leisure in London, what would you get up to?

JA: It would involve sushi from Nobu and the theatre. I love musicals and I’m good friends with a lot of musical theatre guys. I also write musicals, I actually wrote one about Harry Houdini. Most of my leisure time revolves around my work, I love what I do.

Impossible opens on the 24th July at the Noel Coward Theatre and runs until 29th August. To book tickets, please see the website.


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