The Magician’s Apprentice

When I was nine I went on school trip to the pier at Weston Super Mare. This was the old, faded Victorian pier before it got burned down. We had all been given a little bit of money by our parents and were allowed to run around with our friends and spend it (this would never be allowed today!) We went on the carousel, raced through the hall of mirrors becoming giants and imps, clambered through the house of fun with its upside down windows, narrow doors and wobbly stairs. Then we only had 50p left. We walked to the end of the pier, where the gaps in the wooden walkway got wider and you could see the grey sea crashing below. We saw a sign: MAGIC SHOW! 50p so we paid our money and went in. We found a tiny theatre with red velvet curtains and sat down in the front row.

My spoken word show The Magician’s Apprentice starts with this true story and goes on to tell what happened when I went up onto that stage to be the magician’s apprentice! The magic went badly wrong! I insisted it was not ‘real magic’! There is a saying in theatre – ‘don’t work with children and animals’, and this foolish magician worked with both! What happened haunted me and has finally been turned into a performance that explores the secret world of the magician. And for The Bloomsbury Festival I actually get to perform it in the most perfect tiny theatre with real red velvet curtains – The Comedy Museum.

 The performance is a quest for what real magic might be. With a top hat from a junk shop and mail-order wand, a song on my mandolin and a bashed-up suitcase, I mix fact with fiction, fragments of myth with antique jokes, dazzling fairytales with snippets of science, forgotten folklore with mysterious images on tarot cards. Stories shift from horror to humour, romance to rumour. In this slight-of-hand world objects talk, girls become doves, the magician goes mad and the audience all get a magic spell to take home! The performance looks at why apprentices have always been depicted as female and magicians male? Then turns magic on its head with the fabulous fairytale of the most powerful female magician of all, Elena the Wise.

 But what about breath? It is the theme of this year’s festival. My search for real magic takes the audience from the magician’s suitcase to the thrice ninth kingdom in the thrice tenth land and returns to the lungs, to the magic of the present moment and all that is around us right now. I don’t know about you but I feel that I have been holding my breath for a few years now, about covid, war, heating, and just eating. Breath sustains life, it is free, and in this performance is a key to magic. Join me at The Comedy Museum, enjoy the vintage bar, then take your seats in front of the red curtain as I open my suitcase, find smoke, mirrors, the King of the Jinns and set off on a fairytale quest for real magic!

 “Wings whirred, the air was filled with doves. The doves somersaulted and turned into girls! They pulled off their clothes, ran to the lake and swam, splashing each other. The great magician Elena the Wise taught the girls tricks and spells, how to lift a footprint from the mud and make the owner fall in love, collect magpie tuts and nettle pricks and make someone ill or even die. But Elena had a magic mirror in which she could see the whole world reflected – even you! The mirror made her mad and Elena was no longer wise. Bewitched by her own spells, she started cutting off heads!” The Magician’s Apprentice Sally Pomme Clayton


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