Mel Mellers was the MC for the first of three Gala Shows over the weekend and his acerbic wit gave a continual vibrance to each gap between the acts.

Pat Fallon gave us a perfect opening. His stylish, classic magic with doves, candles, silks was thought to be very special by those who I heard discussing the show later. He had not one but two new assistants, Gill and Mandy, the former helping with his main performance, including the changing of doves to a rabbit; and the latter with the Mini Cube Zag at the end of the act.

Mel continued his hilarity with an appearing rainbow cane from a long scarf around his neck and a gag with a bag and £20 note.

Norman Barrett was the hit of the evening for many. His famed performing budgie act was truly delightful as the birds used seesaws and ladders, hoisted a flag, turned windmills and pulled a carriage.

Mel performed Six Card Repeat – his international version – before introducing Stephanie Delvaine who performed a black art hula hoop act which was refreshing and enjoyable, showing a mix of UV and hoop dexterity. The end was very pretty as Stephanie disappeared in a flutter of white petals, leaving just the hoops in her place.

Mel Mellers performed his own act, at this point, which demonstrated his skills with both magic – and children! He started with Professor’s Nightmare, continuing with Cards Across and Miser’s Dream. A brief interaction with a child proved an opening to the younger brother and sister hitting the stage with great enthusiasm which only ended when it looked likely to get out of hand! It was all in good fun though and a lesson in working with the young!

Danny Hunt’s illusion act, Amethyst, began with a girl appearing from a tall black frame. Danny then displayed a barrier of steel through which he was able to walk unharmed. There were two box illusions before Danny gave us an interlude of rope magic, a version of the Walking Knot of Pakistan, and a light bulb and milk effect before we headed with him into an escapology sequence. This incorporated handcuffs manacled to a table with swords hanging over it, supported by a burning rope – and a clock counting down the seconds. Thankfully Danny escaped in time to take his bow alongside his assistant.

After the interval Dion performed his White Magic Rabbit piece. For me this was a highlight of the weekend although my tastes don’t always coincide with others who may not enjoy more theatrical pieces. On the stage was a giant top hat, tipped so that we could see inside it. It rested on an enormous brief case which was on the floor next to an extremely tall tripod table. Suddenly the top hat righted itself and a human white rabbit emerged from its opening. On the table were a pair of gloves and, what attracted the rabbit more, a carrot! The rabbit tried hopelessly to topple the carrot off the tall table but only succeeded in dislodging the gloves which turned into a snowstorm. A huge boxed pack of cards came next from the top hat and were used to stand on but still the carrot was out of reach. So the rabbit took the cards and attempted a card trick but sadly his rising card effect failed to work. Eventually three large cups were taken from the brief case and used for a Cups and Balls routine, each cup being almost as large as the rabbit itself. All the moves were very balletic throughout the act and the mime was beautifully executed. Finally the rabbit discovers a string of knotted silks in the hat and ties them around the table, to tilt it so the carrot falls into his hands.

Mel was back with a performing flea or two and then introduced Sheffield born, now Canadian, Matthew Johnson who sat on a chair on the front of the stage and talked about his life. He talked about his holidays and how he learned to be good at maths – then worked this into a Magic Square presentation. He also performed the Linking Finger Rings which was lost on three-quarters of the audience who could only take his word for it that there were rings on a pencil or pen! Matthew closed by performing a version of Snowstorm in China.

Mel Meller’s story deck is always a huge hit, no matter how often one sees it and tonight was no exception. Mr Jupiter, on the other hand, did himself no favours by performing a tired silent act to music that needed a lot of rejuvenation. Flaming canes and giant card fans, lots of silk magic including stripes that suddenly changed direction gave way to card manipulations – and then billiard balls – very much a dealer dem in what was proving to be a very good gala show.

Mel’s Needle Through Balloon, his last effect that night, is another trick on which he’s stamped his own personality, making it hard to enjoy other versions.

The show ended with more illusions, this time from Guy Barrett. Opening with a jigsaw puzzle on the side of a box, Guy produced a girl from it, then shut her back in it while he changed her costume in the puzzle and then revealed her in the matching dress. A wooden crate had a girl inside it with swords and stakes thrust through the sides. The kicker ending was two girls emerging in spite of seeing just one entering at the start! Guy then performed his fast Dancing Hanky – those upstairs had an interesting view of it!

After an illusion in whch a girl escaped being squashed to death, a giant fan was brought onto the stage and a girl was able to climb through the whirring blades without harm. My American friends were fascinated by the next box – one in which Guy stood upright; this became a kind of Zig Zag effect although the girls were able to invert his middle section! I understand that this is a Guy Barrett exclusive and not for sale as yet. It helps to listen to the sales talk on stands as you wander the dealer halls.

Guy presented the fascinating Things that go Bump in the Night before he was put into a box himself once more and when it was opened a white balloon figure bounced out of it – Guy himself traditionally heralding us from the back of the auditorium. I have to say that the music and action throughout was an excellent lesson in co-ordination of timing.

This had been a great Gala Show to kick off the weekend and we had more to come!

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