You’ll never believe your eyes

Kathy Clarke talks to Joe Daly – creator and star of Magick Macabre – and manages to return to the office in one piece

Kathy Clarke talks to Joe Daly – creator and star of Magick Macabre – and manages to return to the office in one piece

Unless you’ve been walking around Dublin with your eyes closed this past few weeks, you can’t help but have noticed the posters for Magick Macabre, a new magic and illusion show that will be performed live at the Olympia Theatre from 24 October. Joe Daly, the featured magician and brains behind the show, looks awfully scary in said posters. Rest assured he’s not in real life. In fact, he’s very chatty, friendly and talking to him is a bit like having a natter with an old friend – if any of your old friends could cut a man in half, that is.

Don’t get too comfy though, Daly isn’t at all like the camp magician at your tenth birthday party. He doesn’t pull rabbits out of hats, colourful hankies out of his sleeves or coins from behind your ear. At least not anymore. While he might have done some magic tricks in order to pay his way through college, he has moved on to a much more sophisticated (and scary) level of illusion. This has been facilitated by teaming up with Riverdream, producers of the world famous Riverdance and, of course, horror king Wes Craven.

It all stemmed from one magical night in Blackpool when Daly was just a young boy. Those of us who have been to Blackpool will know that on certain days it can be very magical indeed. It was here that Daly first came face to face with his soon-to-be hero, Paul Daniels. “That mental magician off wife swap?” you say. Yes, that’s the one.

Typically, when you saw someone in half, you would have a box, but we have no box. We saw from his crotch right up to his neck. After we saw him in half, we split him in half

The young Daly found himself in the front row at a Paul Daniels magic show and, as fate would have it, Daniels singled him out of the crowd and summoned him on stage to help with a magic trick. When Daly found himself standing next to the lovely Debbie McGee, (she is rather lovely isn’t she?), he fell in love – with magic, that is.

As he stared into the blackness of the huge theatre, the atmosphere was electric. “I can’t remember the trick, but I do remember looking down and not being able to see the audience because of the bright lights. I was amazed, I thought Paul Daniels had made the audience disappear!” It seems he had found his calling.

From then on in, Daly’s parents no longer had to worry about what to get young Joe for Christmas or birthdays. It was always a magic set or a prop or something in that general area.

Daly is the first to admit that, while most children – especially boys – tend to go through a “magic phase,” he never grew out of his. He has been obsessed from the very beginning. In fact, if Mummy and Daddy Daly hadn’t forced him into college (he has a marketing degree from Trinity), he would have just run off and joined the magic circus after leaving school. In retrospect, however, he cherishes his degree as a tool for helping him break into a notoriously difficult industry. After college, a determined young man funded by a credit union loan and the proceeds of selling his car, launched, produced and directed his own show, Vapours.

The show heralded the emergence of a new art form: a magic show with unbelievable illusions and breathtaking special effects. Daly explains: “what I didn’t want to do was, here’s a trick, here’s a box, let me show you what it does.

The fact that there was a story in Vapours meant everything had a reason and it flowed naturally between each illusion. Magick Macabre has even more of a narrative. When the curtains go back, the set is there and you are in that world for the entire show. It’s meant to be a theatrical experience, like watching a play.”

Vapours toured around the country, selling out all manner of venues, including The Helix, and Daly continued to pursue his dream. He contacted some big names in the theatre world, asking them to come and see the show. One in particular took notice: John McColgan, one of the creators of Riverdance and a big fan of the horror genre.

Not only did McColgan take Daly under his wing, telling him that he had the potential to do something on a much bigger scale, he also contacted Wes Craven. More about this later, though. Suddenly, Joe Daly had been transported into the big time, creating his own major magic spectacular.

Daly is keen to iterate that Magick Macabre is not a typical magic show – and not only in the sense that it doesn’t involve leather trousers, flimsy shirts and windswept hair. It’s much more a theatrical spectacular, combining magic, illusion, horror, comedy and romance and, according to Daly, makes magic sexy – something it has never been before.

The young Daly found himself in the front row at a Paul Daniels magic show and, as fate would have it, Daniels singled him out of the crowd and summoned him on stage to help with a magic trick

What makes the show so unique, the magician says, is the quality of the special effects. Banish thoughts of dry ice and smoke from your small little minds. These are movie-quality effects, illusions that have never been seen before specifically developed by David Copperfield’s illusion designer. If you think making the Statue of Liberty disappear was impressive, wait till you see “The Burning Alive,” “The Drill of Death” and “The Sawing in Half.” Tameness is simply not an option, as Daly explains: “Typically, when you saw someone in half, you would have a box, but we have no box. We saw from his crotch right up to his neck. After we saw him in half, we split him in half.” Don’t bring your granny along to this one, then.

The show, which was recently previewed on RTE’s The Late Late Show with Pat Kenny, is set in an asylum and is loosely based on a story Daly heard when he was a child. In a similar fashion to Vapours, Magick Macabre features protagonist Daemon Cordell, a magician who, in order to achieve the perfect magical illusion, has killed his assistants. Caught and found criminally insane, he is put in a psychiatric facility.

This is point at which the audience first encounter him, straight jacketed and shackled. Lovely stuff, so. Daly insists, though, that Magick Macabre is not just the kind of gross-out exercise typically worshipped by teenage boys (there is, in fact, a 15+ certificate for this production). “There’s actually lots of humour in the show. There’s an element of tongue-in-cheek and although Daemon is a twisted, evil, charming character on stage, there is something about him that the audience will really enjoy. The show will make you laugh when you know beyond all doubt that you shouldn’t.”

An intriguing element of Magick Macabre is that it contains no dialogue whatsoever. Those of us who are easily confused need not worry: Daly assures me that audience members are given a comic on entering the performance space that will explain all. Otherwise, the entire show is done through a soundtrack, and a very diverse one at that, featuring music from The Chemical Brothers, Faithless, The Prodigy with some opera thrown in for good measure. A strange mix but, then, it’s a strange show. McColgan sent Wes Craven the show’s script – Craven, of course, being the brains behind iconic horror movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills have Eyes and Scream. The director, despite having never been involved in a stage or theatre production before, was excited about the prospect and wanted to meet both Daly and McColgan.

After a gruelling week-long meeting in Boston, Craven finally got on board (as writer for a Las Vegas version of Magick Macabre). While Daly’s original script will still be used for the Dublin production, Craven has changed it a little for the Vegas audience who, Daly asserts, “are really there for the gambling, so if you let them go for an interval – oh, there’s a slot machine – and you lose half of your audience.”

A show such as Magick Macabre will not only bring something entirely fresh to the Dublin theatre scene, it will also be completely different to other magic shows in Las Vegas. Amongst productions by Penn and Teller at The Rio and David Copperfield at the MGM Grand Casino, Daly should not only hold his own but he should present a twist on traditional Las Vegas magic displays that serve purely as entertainment, minus the narrative.

Daly is absolutely delighted about the deal, citing this as the biggest break of his life. Is he worried that he won’t live up to the expectations? “Yeah absolutely. It’s a lot of pressure. But what an opportunity.”

With Craven’s input, the Vegas version will most likely prove to be pretty spectacular, but if you want to catch Daly’s show a bit sooner and a lot closer to home, you had best head down to the Olympia.

With an exciting creative team, including director Thomas de Mallet Burgess – who has directed major opera productions in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Canada, as well as in Ireland – and costume designer Joan Bergin – winner of the two Emmy Awards for The Tudors – the show has the potential to be excellent.

Daly assures me that it will scare the audience on so many levels, make them look behind them, and laugh when they really shouldn’t. Make sure you don’t miss out on the adventure.