Leon Trotsky was on the radio last Wednesday, which must have tickled Ian Saville, card-carrying socialist magician. While they definitely look alike – tidy small beard, neat specs – Saville is probably more disarming than the founder of the Red Army. At present, Magic Ian is a tad vexed by his unexpected elevation to the presidency of the Magic Square. How this came about, and what’s now to be done when we’re all spellbound by politics, is causing him some distress.
Saville went to Hackney Downs School, as did Harold Pinter and Steven Berkoff – not that he mentions it – but he has a gentler persona on stage than those two biggies. He opens with a mild disclaimer: that his ‘down to earth and honest magic’ has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the present manifestation of the Labour party. However, given his uncanny ability to mirror what’s actually going on, and given that preparation of this show must have occurred before recent events took shape, the man is clearly clairvoyant.
Not that Saville would not accept this assessment: he declares that his is a ‘secular’ kind of magic, whereas the opposition (lower case ‘o’) are supporters of supernatural causes and practise arcane arts, like juggling and mentalism. His election to the leadership of the Magic Square almost certainly owes something to these factions but their identities are hard to determine. All he knows is that some members of his Shadowy Cabinet are now in league against him. The fact that a near identical struggle is actually going on would be practically laughable, were it not so important, and is certainly mesmerising, which assists the magic no end.
Through a modest stage persona, Saville plays befuddlement to a T, and there’s an anxious inflection to the engaging patter. ‘Exposure’ (of a trick) must, above all, be kept from the ‘Magic Press’ (I thought of the Grand Wizard Murdoch.) However, I cannot explain a single number, least of all the shredded newspaper mending itself. I especially liked the workers vanishing inside the black box of their factory, how their protests were muffled as they were pushed in and how – in the process – they are made aware of the power and worth of their labour; rail strikes come magically to mind.
And so to puppets Karl Marx and Norm for advice. These two ‘dummies’ irritate and aggravate Saville, the insecure party leader and fine ventriloquist, to the point where he is literally beside himself. There is a hoot of a (long) hat switching routine that even finds time for our exit from the International Performers’ Union. As it happens, I’d be very happy to see Ian Saville at an EU summit.