From Fun Home to Waitress, from Next to Normal to Finding Neverland - it's always fun collating the various rumours flying around theatreland. After a very busy...
Hayden Thomas interviews The Illusionists' Jamie Raven
Hot off the heels of coming runner-up on this year's series of "Britain's Got Talent," Jamie Raven talks to our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter) about joining the Broadway magic-mega-show The Illusionists for their West End engagement. The production is scheduled to begin performances at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 14 November and will play a limited engagement through to 3 January 2016.
Hayden Thomas: 'The Illusionists' is about to begin simultaneous West End (Shaftesbury Theatre) and Broadway (Neil Simon Theatre) engagements. Could you describe to us exactly what 'The Illusionists' is as a brand and a format?
Jamie Raven: Sure. It's the most successful touring magic show in the world. As well as being on Broadway and London at the same time this year, it's also going to be playing a number of other countries . I'm not quite sure how many it's been to you, but it has been all over the world. The West End show is myself and six other acts and we all specialise in different genres of magic. Each character has a different nature. One of the cast members is Colin Cloud - The Deductionist - he's a mind-reader, like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. We've also got Andrew Basso - The Escapologist - he's like a modern-day Houdini. We've got Ben Blaque - The Warrior, who is a weapons master. He has lots of wonderful illusions, in particular with a crossbow, amongst lots of other things. And I do what I do. So it's basically ticking all the different boxes of magic, so that hopefully there is something for everybody to watch and enjoy the show.
HT: And how did you personally become involved with 'The Illusionists,' Jamie? Did that come quite quickly after your appearances on "Britain's Got Talent"?
JR: Well, the way I got involved was through my manager, who also represents a number of magicians and one of them is a guy called James More. He was also on "Britain's Got Talent" a few years ago and he performed with 'The Illusionists' before. He was talking to the producers about James performing in the Broadway show and then he mentioned that I might also be of interest and then with "Britain's Got Talent," the timing worked out perfectly and they asked me to be on board. I'm immensely proud to be able to be a part of it.
HT: And just like magic, you're playing the West End!
JR: (Laughs) I know! Brilliant!
HT: Now, I'm sure you've played in all types of venues all over the country, but how significant is it for you to be on stage at a West End theatre?
JR: Oh, it can't get any bigger! As an English performer, to be invited to perform in the West End is the greatest honour there is. Like you said, I've performed in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, but never in the West End in a theatre like this before. It just doesn't get any better and I can't wait!
HT: Are you a fan of West End theatre in general, Jamie?
JR: Yes, I am! I love to go to the theatre, work permitting. Unfortunately I tend to be working at the same time as when most of the shows are playing. But I do absolutely love it, so whenever I get the chance to go, I take it. I love a great variety too - I love singing, I like dancing, I like plays, I like pantomime, I just like watching people perform live.
HT: And one of the most hotly-anticipated West End productions of next year is, of course, 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' at the Palace Theatre. Coming from the world of magic yourself, Jamie, are you a fan of Harry Potter or is that not so much your cup of tea?
JR: I am a fan of anyone or anything that generates interest and appreciation for the thing that I love and that is magic. Although I'll never be able to meet Harry Potter in person, I'll be forever grateful to J.K. Rowling for bringing magic to a brand new audience. She has made what we do even more popular. And I'll definitely be going to see the West End show next year!
HT: Now obviously "Britain's Got Talent" has done wonders for raising your profile. How does it actually work? Were you scouted by one of Simon Cowell's researchers or did you fill out an application form yourself?
JR: The way the TV show works is that you have open auditions and the general public can go and audition in front of a couple of people and eventually you might get put through and audition on the stage for the TV judges. But because I do this professionally - I think most people who do an act professionally are approached and asked if they would like to take part in the show. I had been approached a number of times for past series, but the timing was never quite right for me. Then, this year I thought: "Yeah, I'll give it a go." And I was really lucky and managed to come second. I was absolutely thrilled with that.
HT: I watched your televised performances on YouTube and thankfully nothing went wrong with any of your illusions, but have there ever been times when things just haven't gone to plan at one of your shows?
JR: Yes, we're only human, so every now and again mistakes happen. But the great thing about what I do and what other professionals do is that you work out what could possibly go wrong and if it were to go wrong, you work out a way around it. There have been a number of times when I've been doing a trick on stage and it hasn't worked, but I was able to re-order what I was doing, so that the audience weren't aware that it hadn't worked like it should have done. That's happened a number of times, but I always have a Plan B.
HT: In the same way, stand-up comedians have 'saving' gags prepared, should a particular joke fall flat or rehearsed comebacks prepared, should there be any hecklers in the audience.
JR: Exactly! And the skill is making it seem like it's your first time saying it and like it's off-the-cuff. If someone heckles and they fire back, it will seem like they only just thought of that, when in actual fact they've got hundreds and hundreds of comebacks that they have spent hours and hours working on.
HT: Well, we can all look forward to seeing you work your magic in the West End engagement of 'The Illusionists,' Jamie, and I want to thank you for your time.
JR: Thank you so much. Any time, buddy.
The West End engagement of The Illusionists is booking from 14 November through to 3 January 2016 at London's Shaftesbury Theatre.