Sometimes, when I am sitting in an easy chair, with only a cigar and my thoughts for companions, I am reminded of a little magical problem that I have often tried to solve.
I want to do on the stage just what I am then doing in my study, but of course, something else is to happen. The trick will really begin – if ever I succeed in solving this puzzle – when the smoke from my cigar collects in a little cloud and remains a few feet above my head. And as I sit there, smoking and trying to convince the audience that I am thinking, the little cloud of smoke will drift slightly and, in moving, will gradually form itself into a kind of “smoke statue” of a woman. The smoke will slowly disperse, and the audience will then see a woman floating in mid-air; she will show by her expression and movements of the hands and head that she is a living being.
When the audience have been convinced that the woman is really a living being I shall put down my cigar, stand up, and look rather incredulously at the figure for a few seconds. The figure will then dissolve into a cloud of smoke which will disperse and disappear altogether. I shall return to my easy chair and my cigar, and the curtain will fall slowly.
This is not an “impossible” illusion by any means, but I have not yet hit upon a method which appeals to me.
This illusion reminds me of another which is rather more difficult. I imagine that everyone has seen the illusion in which a woman, reclining on a couch on the stage, floats away from the couch and up above the head of the performer. The magician passes a solid hoop over the figure to prove that the woman is quite isolated (and, in passing, I may say that the hoop is exactly what it is claimed to be – a solid steel hoop). After a few moments the figure slowly sinks down again to the couch.
This is a very effective illusion, but just a little hackneyed nowadays. I have always thought, however, that the fact that the illusion was presented entirely on the stage seemed to rob it of some of its effect. How much better it would be, I think, if the figure, after rising in mid-air, slowly floated away from the stage and passed over the heads of the audience and returned to the stage.
Here, again, we have an illusion which is not impossible, but I have not yet discovered a way out of certain difficulties.
An illusion or trick which seems to be very complicated is not always the most difficult for the performer; on the other hand a plain, apparently simple little trick, can be very bothersome.
Here is an idea which was given to me by a pupil of mine. It seems simple enough, but though I have known of it for years I have not been able to find a good way of doing the trick.
The conjurer borrows half a crown, opens his right hand, shows that he has nothing in the hand, places the half-crown on the palm, and closes the hand. He then addresses the owner of the money : —
“You can have various kinds of change for half a crown. What change would you like ?”
We will suppose that the reply is : “Two separate shillings and a sixpence.” The conjurer immediately opens his hand and shows two separate shillings and a sixpence.
If the conjurer knew that he was going to be asked for that change the trick would be fairly easy, but that is not the trick. The performer has to be ready to give any change in silver without opening his hand until the end of the trick. My pupil kindly suggested that to make the trick “really difficult” we ought to allow the owner of the half-crown to choose part of his change or all of it in coppers, but I gave an emphatic “No” to that idea. Imagine what would happen if some sweet child of nine, after a little calculation, prompted the owner of the money to ask for a hundred and twenty farthings! No, the trick is quite difficult enough if you limit the choice to silver, and partly because it is difficult it remains among the tricks I want to do.
Here is another little effect which seems absurdly simple – till you try to do it.
The conjurer has a blotting-pad, some paper, pens, and ink. He asks someone to come up to his table, select a pen, and write anything he pleases in ink. The conjurer holds the paper so that everyone in the audience can see it, and asks his volunteer assistant to hold the blotting-pad in a similar position. The conjurer then blots the writing on the pad, but when he removes the paper the audience see that the writing on the blotting-paper is not reversed – as, of course, it should be. It seems to me that the only way of doing this would be by secretly detaching the sheet of blotting-paper from the pad and turning it over, but how to do this without letting the audience see you do it – to say nothing of the assistant who is holding the blotting-pad – is beyond me at present. The trick appeals to me because it is quite different from any other trick with which I am acquainted.
Let us return to the big stage for a moment, I come on with a magic wand (I have never used one) and a small handkerchief. I place the handkerchief on the end of the wand and start to twirl it round. The handkerchief spins on the end of the wand. The audience see that the handkerchief gets larger and larger until finally it becomes a huge sheet, practically concealing me from the audience, although the very sharp people in the front rows of the stalls will notice that my feet are still on the stage.
Somebody fires a pistol; there is a crash of cymbals from the orchestra; the revolving sheet disappears in a flash, disclosing four swing-boats. The audience then see that the wand which I used in the first place is now a stout rod of iron and serves as the axis on which the four swing-boats revolve. There are to be two persons in each boat and the whole structure is to be brilliantly illuminated.
I once worked this out – on paper – and I believe my scheme would answer, but there are two difficulties which I cannot get over. The expense of making the apparatus would be small in comparison with the expense of carrying it about the country and paying the small army of assistants who would be required to work it. The other difficulty is the time which would be occupied in setting and striking the illusion; that difficulty is insuperable unless you make the illusion the first item on the programme, and I should strongly object to that idea.
I once mentioned this idea to a pupil of mine. He suggested that for the first little effect – spinning the handkerchief on the end of the wand – I might have a pin on the wand – just to make it easy. I thanked him and asked him to continue with his solution. The handkerchief is to get bigger while it is in motion. . . . He is still thinking about it. And, as a matter of fact, that is the chief difficulty in working out the illusion.
Another pretty illusion which I want to do is down in my notebook as “The Bubble.” A large bubble floats on the stage; if you think this would be too easy you can begin by blowing the bubble from a pipe. After a few moments the audience see the picture of a woman on the bubble, which sinks down on to the table and bursts, disclosing the woman standing on the table.
This is rather a “teaser,” and so is the sequel.
The woman is dressed in a plain white frock. At my suggestion she walks down to the audience, and two or three ladies are asked to inspect her white dress and to satisfy themselves that there is no trickery about it.
The woman returns to the stage and lies on a couch. I then ask the audience to name any of the colours which they saw on the bubble – in short, any colour they like. I ask them to watch the white dress on my assistant; the dress slowly becomes dyed with the colour the audience have chosen, and to satisfy the audience that the effect is not produced by coloured lights the assistant walks down to the auditorium again.
Quite a pretty illusion – if I could do it.
And I have not got very far with another little trick. I want to borrow some rings – ordinary finger rings – from members of the audience and put them in a glass, take them out of the glass and show them all linked together. Then they are to be unlinked and returned to their owners.
To be continued…