I was about 9 years old and in his hands these four cards kept turning face up and face down. And just when I thought the trick was all over the faces and backs suddenly disappeared and were replaced by rainbow coloured prismatic patterns. The trick was Rainbow Cascade and was probably the first ‘professional’ magic trick I ever learned. I still love it.
Fast forward about 30 years and I am watching the same trick (though now, as readers of this blog will be delighted to know, using Bicycle Cards rather than the Piatnik ones which were favoured in the 80s) at an evening of Conjuring and Canapes which my wife had taken me to as a holiday surprise. This time Roy Davenport was the performer and a couple of days later I found myself in his company once more as he took me on a proper look around Davenports Magic Kingdom – one of Norfolk’s newest visitor attractions.
Since Davenports Magic Kingdom (DMK) has a small shop (and given its relationship to Davenports Magic Shop in London – the first magic shop I ever visited) it is the subject of our latest Clicks and Mortar focus.
So a visitor attraction based on magic? How does that work? Roy explained the challenges of communicating what is, in some ways, a lost world of magic and variety to the screen-attached generation whose only interaction with magic is Dynamo or Troy. They have no real framework for it, so DMK tries to do that by first introducing you to the historical relationship between magic and witchcraft – and the very locally relevant idea of witch trials and hangings. This links you nicely to a copy of the Discoverie of Witchcraft – the first ‘magic book’ printed in the English language – and the place where the story of English conjuring really begins. It’s the first time I have ever seen a real copy of this which was in remarkably good condition for its age.
The well-designed attraction then takes you through a whirlwind tour of the history of magic with a great variety of artefacts, props, posters, and the like. Magicians all seem to be inveterate hoarders, and in this case having four generations of magicians in one family has lead to a fascinating and well-kept collection. There are too many interesting pieces to mention, but I was particularly pleased to see some Houdini memorabilia which hasn’t ended up in the States – in this case the original water torture cell (which was also used in the recent film Death Defying Acts). I was also staggered by the size of (one of – sorry can’t remember which one! ) the Davenport’s Billiard Balls – he must have had enormous hands for the kind of manipulation he did with them.
There’s a super mock up of the 1920s-30s Davenports shop in which you get to see some magic demonstrated, and a visit also includes a live stage show in their small but perfectly formed theatre. There are some great extra bits and pieces but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you!
A cafe finished off the attraction with lots of interesting exhibits around the walls. They’ve done a good job of converting what is essentially a warehouse building into a fascinating, characterful and interactive visitor attraction. As a magic nut for 30 years I was like the proverbial child in a candy shop. Whether it will play as well for the general paying public is a little harder to say. I really hope so – because this story deserves to be told.
There does seem to be something of a renaissance of interest in magic at the moment – with it featuring more regularly on the television than it has for years – so perhaps Davenports Magic Kingdom will be able to capitalise on this re-introduce a generation to this golden era of stage magic. So spread the word. And if you’re in the vicinity of Cromer (the nearest town you might have heard of!) pop in – it is well worth a visit.