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Review of Jamie Raven Live, The Alban Arena, 24th June, 2016

jamie raven blog"In case you don't know who I am...", said Jamie Raven, soon after walking on stage; he then proceeded to give us his CV to date.  As prior to that we had just seen a three minute video featuring highlights of Jamie's meteoric rise since he came second to a "three legged dog" on Britain's Got Talent, you would have had to have been brain dead not to have twigged who he was.  But that seemingly modest demeanour is part of the reason for Jamie's success. "Likeable" and "nice" are the epithets that are most commonly often said about him; and Jamie does all he can to reinforce that stereotype.

"My name is Jamie",  he must have said half a dozen times to different people who helped him out, before asking their own name.  Afterwards they were profusely thanked - many of them hugged and kissed - for their assistance.  Nobody on stage was ever embarrassed or made to look demeaning (leaving aside a girl's father having his head sawn off). Two children were given gifts (admittedly they were gifts that were also on sale, but let us not be ungracious); a man won a five pound note (although he did lose out on a cheque for fifteen thousand pounds, to make him feel good about his choice of envelope).  And of course we, as the paying punters, were told what "an absolute pleasure" it was for Jamie to have a chance to entertain us.

Although this personable demeanour might seem to be a minor point, it is not necessarily a quality you automatically see in the majority of magicians. So it is certainly not something to be scoffed at, even if, at times, Jamie comes close to being obsequious. Perversely, though, along with Jamie's 'niceness' is a continual reminder of just how good he is.  Besides the pre-show, over-hyped video, there were plenty of newspaper headlines, photos and film clips that were displayed on the screen during the two halves to reinforce his newly acquired fame - not to mention his own statement that he had "headlined" (alongside the likes of Kevin James and David Williamson, although that was not mentioned) a record breaking West End theatre run.

jamie raven ticket blogJudged on the quality of magic that Jamie does in this show, I'm not sure if all the self reassuring back-slapping is wholly necessary.  Perhaps he can't really believe he has had this amazing break; and has to keep reminding himself how he is now playing sold-out theatres - when a year ago he was, like the rest of us, just another jobbing magician.

For, make no mistake, Jamie is a good magician. Most of what he does is well executed and technically proficient and he definitely has 'the chops'. He is articulate and his explanations of what he is about to do, so the audience can easily follow along, is clear cut. The tricks he did comprised strong magic and there were many gasps throughout from the appreciative audience.

His background as a close-up magician meant that Jamie was most confident with 'smaller' magic.  Thanks to the now accepted presence of a cameraman on stage together with the huge screen at the back, such tricks play just as well - sometimes even better - than traditional stage tricks.  It has long been realised that on television producing a mouse can be as impressive as vanishing the Statute of Liberty; and now, in a large theatre, a card transposition can garner as much reaction as levitating a small child. 

It was therefore no surprise that the camera was a constant presence; nor that there was continuous underlying music both to build up the tension, raise expectations and cover any dull bouts of procedural instructions, of which there was a fair amount, in a number of the stage tricks.

jamie raven paper blogGiven the available technology, it did seem strange that in demonstrating the tricks with which he earned his living for many a year, Jamie should choose to do them in the aisle, rather than on the stage itself.  The decision was probably made because he wanted to perform them exactly as he used to; and misdirection is rather easier in the middle of the audience, where the camera can decide where we should look, than in the glaring spotlight of a stage. The sequence of various card tricks - finishing with card in mouth - fork bending and ring on car keys and nest of wallets, was seemingly made at the same pace and, I presume, presentation, as he used to do at his table-hopping gigs.

For Jamie's choice of repertoire outside close-up, all the remaining  genres were covered: mind reading, card tricks, illusion and general magic.  The tricks were done with children, with male and female helpers, with both single and many volunteers.  There was also a rather anonymous stage assistant who participated in the 'Cardboard Box of Death' illusion.  Jamie's self-effacement didn't extend to giving his male helper much credit; possibly a mistake that he paid for - as we knew nothing about him, we didn't really care that he was potentially going to be impaled with wooden sticks. 

Out of all of his tricks, it is difficult to pick any that especially stood out.  Most magicians have one or two that sum up their style or personality or that they have indelibly stamped their mark on. Perhaps it is too early in Jamie's career to expect it.  But his present choices seem to be derivative, inspired by those done by other performers.

So his opening trick was a variation on John Archer's - the 'Yours Mine' envelope choice; there was an iPhone to an impossible location, reminiscent of Dynamo; a long winded, multiple coincidence routine, involving five spectators and numerous choices, which very much brought to mind Derren Brown; the McDonald's Aces direct to camera used to be featured by David Copperfield; and the Cardboard Sword Box Illusion is presently performed by Young and Strange in a show which has also been recently touring.

I should stress that Jamie is not doing anything unethical here; the tricks are often very different, both in method and presentation. But you do regret that he and his team could not have been slightly more innovative in their selection.

If asked, Jamie, I suspect, would probably say that Card-Toon was his signature piece, as it was with this trick that he initially made his name. But the idea of presenting it as a stage effect didn't originate with him. And on this particular night it was all rather too speedily done (following the extended choice of the card, with the inevitable chucking around of a ball) and the filming of it was poorly executed; so that it was in the end, particularly after another over-the-top build-up, rather an anti-climax.

Jamie's script was essentially, perhaps as one might anticipate, descriptive and instructional. There were some deliberately funny remarks but few lines that could be considered 'character' based or especially original.  Even when Jamie was trying to give a little more of himself, it didn't really ring true.  The idea that he was fascinated by coincidences was unconvincing, despite the regurgitation of facts relating to Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy.  Whilst the occasional attempts at sentimentality and his love of doing magic with everyday objects appeared contrived.  British magicians really can't pull this sort of stuff off - unless they are deliberately sending it up. 

Sometimes you do see what is perhaps Jamie revealing his true colours (the cheeky character?) with a line slightly insulting a spectator - but it is instantly followed by a reassuring "only kidding" in case anyone should take offence.  For part of one sequence he had to pretend that a man was getting on his nerves.  But his own nerve failed him and he only said it once, and quickly apologised - a more experienced comedy magician would have turned that into a running gag.

It was unintentionally amusing that when Jamie attempted to be 'right on' by telling us that he liked to tell men, who said to him "can you make my wife disappear", if you carry on with that attitude they will vanish of their own freewill, the audience looked rather bewildered.  You could almost hear them thinking that that was a bit cutting from our nice Jamie. 

Smart lines is not what the Raven-fans have come out to see.  They don't want to hear anything other than that what you would expect from the polite young man who participated in the three rounds of BGT. He created his new persona for twelve minutes of career-changing television and, at least for the time being, he is now stuck with it. 

At one point in the show, Jamie said, for no very obvious reason, "this is a trick that Paul Daniels used to do five hundred years ago". It didn't get much of a reaction but that is not surprising given that most of the audience had probably never heard of Paul Daniels, yet alone seen him. In one sense Jamie was right though: his magic, today's magic, is far away from what Paul Daniels used to epitomise.  Back then the emphasis was as much on the comedy as the magic; now it is all about magic and more magic. 

In my view something is lost as a result; to be blunt, it is easier to succeed by just working on the 'tricks', rather than having to work on an interesting character.  It is easier for the 'okay', rather than the 'outstanding', to rise to the top. And instead of magicians with 'attitude', you have 'blandness'.  The truth is, back in Daniels's day, Jamie would not have got a look in. But that day has long gone.  The younger generation of magicians should make the most of it.  Jamie Raven (and now Richard Jones) should be an inspiration to you all; get that BGT - or equivalent - break, be nice, choose your tricks well to suit the format and you, too, might make it.

I was talking not so long ago to an extremely successful magician who works the same circuit as Jamie used to do. "Give it couple of years", he said, "and he'll be back doing our gigs again". On the basis of the present magic zeitgeist, and the enthusiasm of the audience that I observed at this show, I wouldn't be so sure. 

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