Creating an illusion


'If the magic is successful you won't even know it has happened'

Richard Pinner is a professional magician, performing his own magic and cabaret shows, but he also regularly works in the theatre world, helping actors and directors achieve magical effects in their shows.

He first worked with the RSC on Women Beware Women, in 2006 – the final scene involved numerous deaths, raining fire and poisoned smoke.

In Titus Andronicus he has worked with Director Michael Fentiman and the cast, applying illusion to several moments in the play to make them more effective.

He said: 'Theatre magic is different to cabaret or magic shows – you normally you wait for the audience reaction, while in theatre you often don't want them to know it's happened.'

Stephen Boxer as TitusIllusion in Titus Andronicus
Richard used a mixture of sleight of hand and prop engineering to create the illusions in Titus Andronicus. Moments that used magic included:

  • Titus cutting his own hand off: Richard worked with Stephen Boxer, playing Titus (right), to make this as realistic as possible, adapting a classic illusion trick
  • Firing crossbows to the audience: we see the crossbows load and the trigger being pulled, but the five arrows disappear into the air
  • Closing fight scene: using illusion gave Fight Director Kate Waters freedom to employ interesting deaths, such as a chair leg thorough the chest and a corkscrew into the neck. Richard also helped the actors effectively conceal their blood packs.

The thrust stage
The shape of the Swan Theatre stage presents an extra challenge to an illusionist. Often when a magician performs he will have the audience in front of him, so there is no clear view of him from the side.

In the Swan Theatre with the audience on all three sides there is no cover, so Richard had to employ methods that allow for a full view of what's happening.

This was particularly difficult for the scene in which Titus cuts his hand off, as this takes places towards the front of the stage. Stephen and Richard had to work around this to ensure that the illusion was effective from all sides of the theatre.

Watching from the wings
Richard is used to being centre stage in his own shows, where he is responsible for everything that happens, and if something goes wrong he's the only person who can rescue the show.

But his theatre work is actually more scary: 'I am terrified because I am not on stage – I can't fix it if it goes wrong. It's much more nerve-wracking than being on stage.'

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