For his next trick: Alex McAleer conjures up magic stardom from Norfolk roots
- Credit: Archant
Mind-reader Alex McAleer began his magic career on stage in Suffolk before developing successful cabaret shows in Norwich. Now he has found international success as part of hit show Champions of Magic.
'I found the footage the other day, and it's not that bad actually,' says Alex McAleer, recalling his first stage performance as a wannabe magician and mind-reader. 'I'm basically doing an impression of Derren Brown, but even from that I can see where some of the routines I still do now came from.'
That debut performance on a village hall stage in Suffolk was the start of a journey that has seen him rise to international success as part of Champions of Magic.
The hit show, which stars Alex alongside four other magicians and illusionists, sees him return to the region at Norwich Theatre Royal this weekend as part of its sixth national tour.
Also starring American close-up magician Kayla Drescher, Mexican illusionist and escapologist Fernando Velasco and grand illusion double act Young & Strange, the show will then tour America where it has already enjoyed success.
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A mix of mind reading, stunning close-up magic and daring grand illusions, Alex has been involved from the start and it has propelled him to stardom.
'The producer used to run comedy nights and a couple of the acts he booked were Pete Firman, the comedy magician, and Ali Cook, and he thought 'what would it be like if I booked them both on the same bill, I could make it a whole magic show?',' he explains.
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'I think he did that once or twice then he realised he needed different types of magic, because those two are quite similar. So I got a call because he'd seen me in something, and I did a show, then another then it became an official tour. The over three or four years it became bigger and bigger, we toured America, we changed the line-up and it just got bigger than bigger. Now we're doing these UK dates; then back to America, with the rest of the year full of shows over there.'
It's a far cry from his Suffolk origins. 'I grew up in Debenham and there was an am-dram group there, the Debenham Players, and my parents were members, so I was in a few plays and pantomimes,' he recalls. 'But there were also people who were keen on writing things, including one guy called Alan who said I've got this one-act play so why don't you start by the show by doing 10 minutes of your stuff. I did, then I did a bit more, then eventually I did my own show in 2008.
'From there it's about trying to do it to earn money. I got a small loan from the Prince's Trust while I was living in Ipswich and that helped me get a website, get a suit, have some business cards printed, and led to me getting my first paid for gig as well, a little corporate event.'
An only child, like many youngsters in the 1980s he had a Paul Daniels magic kit, but it wasn't tricks with balls, cups and cards that eventually piqued his interest, but rather mind-reading.
He explains: 'It wasn't until I was about 14 that I got into mentalism, this area of magic that is about things that look psychic but aren't. I had a book on memory tricks and techniques, mnemonics and memorising lists, that kind of stuff.
'I think I may have been given it to help with my GCSEs. But what the book did do was encourage you to show off, so I did to my friends. I got them to give me a list of items and I'd recite it forwards and backwards. This book also had a list of other books to read at the back and some of them were mentalism magic books.'
Gradually developing his skills he slowly built up a list of clients and then moved to Norfolk where he met his partner Daisy Black, who was studying creative writing at UEA, but who then also get the performing bug. Together they set up Gossamer Threads, who put on curious cabaret nights.
'I did a gig with someone who was doing hula-hooping and she said I could do that,' he laughs. 'Then suddenly she was brilliant at it. That meant we could do gigs together and we moved to near Norwich and met people like Hocus Pocus Theatre. That led to setting top our own company with Gossamer Theatre and we've done gigs all around the country. We get to travel together to shows and they get a hula-hooper, a mind-reader and one of our crazy double acts all in one show.'
Returning to the Norwich Theatre Royal with Champions of Magic fulfils an ambition. 'It's quite nice to tick off this last venue that I haven't played in Norwich,' he says. 'I've previously done the Playhouse and the Arts Centre, The Birdcage and a few of the other smaller venues, and now I get to do the Theatre Royal.'
Champions of Magic is a mix of mind reading, close-up magic and daring illusions, including disappearances, levitation, teleportation and a heart stopping finale.
Alex said: 'The four acts in the show all have our own particular genre or style. I do the mindreading, and there is a bit of comedy in there. Kayla does the close-up magic but is also quirky in her own way. Fernando does the daring escapes and has a high energy to his act. And Young & Strange are kind of the loveable idiots who do the big grand illusions. It is both different styles of magic, but also different personalities.'
The show's success in US has meant he had to adjust to Americans different attitudes to magic. 'The American market is very different,' he says. 'British audiences are a lot more sceptical. US audiences tend to be much more up for a night out. Their last example was probably David Copperfield, maybe David Blaine they may have seen on TV or Penn and Teller. They kind of see magic as just another type of entertainment, whereas here it took us a long time to over the idea of Paul Daniels being seen as a bit naff. People like Derren Brown and Dynamo have helped break that mould.'
But what is it like to be on the road with four other magicians are there rivalries? 'No rivalries - it's good fun and we get along. Though on the last tour of America we did three months travelling all of us on a bus, which sounds glamorous, but after day three you're sick of being on a bus - and its 17 hours to the next place.'
Alex's role in the show is mind-reading meaning there is no place to hide if things go wrong.
'You can't hide behind the big shiny props or dancing girls,' he admits. 'It is just me on stage so if it ever does go wrong, which it can do, it is excruciating.'
The attitude to mind-reading differs over the Atlantic too. 'Because of people like Derren we're more used to that kind of performing over here and audiences think he's not psychic so there is some sort of trick going on, some process behind it, but over in America people really don't care how it is done. They're happy to think he's got magic powers and we'll leave it at that.'