Morgan and West are currently presenting Clockwork Miracles, an incredibly charming, family-friendly magic show in the afternoons in the Gilded Balloon. The duo’s shtick is that they are time-travelling Victorian magicians and all the props and patter are so themed. One is resplendently whiskered while the other sports the kind of waxed moustache of which Hercule Poirot would be proud, they address each other as Mr Morgan and Mr West and have a gracious, gentlemanly manner that immediately puts the audience at ease.
Their illusions are elegantly and effortlessly performed if often rather delicate: they favour small wonders over grand spectacle. They’re incredibly skilled at sleight of hand and West can do some magnificent things with his crystal balls; they put a neat spin on the standard stage mind reading act by anticipating just how many lumps of sugar their volunteers take in their Earl Grey and they even include a little light philosophy. There’s a joke in there about Heidegger’s uncertainty principle and they manage to make some of the very same points about predestination and the nature of choice as Rob Drummond does in Bullet Catch – before then going on to fashion a little squirrel out of balloons.
Later on in the evenings, at the same venue’s Wee Room, they’re performing a different kind of show for a different kind of audience. In Lying, Cheating, Scoundrels, a maximum of twenty people assemble on stools around an oval table as Morgan and West sit with their pristine shirtsleeves on the green baize and perform a set of close-up card magic infused with a similar sense of history. They’ve done their level best to give the room a parlour-like feel – despite the midnight roar of Bristo Square outside the window – by keeping both the lamp light and their voices low so the audience are obliged to lean in and concentrate as they deal hands of pontoon and poker on the table-top.
They touch again – very lightly – on the nature of chance and choice, playing on common misconceptions and assumptions people make about probability and they also demonstrate a little of the card sharp’s art: how one might mark a deck or palm a card. The card tricks are interspersed with routines involving peas and walnut shells, wagers involving impossible knots. There were moments where I felt I might have got more out of the experience if I’d paid more attention the last time someone tried to explain the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em to me, but overall I found it fascinating being at such close quarters and able to appreciate the dexterity with which they handle the cards.
As performers they’re ever so slightly more hesitant than in they are in their daytime show and the intimate atmosphere of the piece is so audience-dependant that one wonders what would happen if they ever have to deal with some more overtly refreshed participants – as it is one mildly glazed chap reveals his card too early – but their charm as a double act is, as ever, considerable and there’s something incredibly thrilling about seeing magic performed in such close quarters.