Chelmsford: Britain’s Got Talent magician David Penn and the other stars of Champions of Magic on their Civic Theatre show

David Penn, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight

David Penn, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight - Credit: Archant

When David Penn was six or seven his grandad used to astound him by pulling coins from behind his ear, making a toy soldier disappear...

Edward Hilsum, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight

Edward Hilsum, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight - Credit: Archant

“When I got home the toy was on the kitchen table. My mum and dad would take it home then act as surprised as I was, but when you’re very young it fooled me,” remembers Penn who, bitten by the bug, got a magic set for Christmas and started practicing.

Fay Presto, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight

Fay Presto, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight - Credit: Archant

His first trick involved a piece of glass. You checked both sides then put two playing cards on it and were able to push a pen full through.

Ali Cook, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight

Ali Cook, one of the stars of Champions of Magic at Chelmsford's Civic Theatre tonight - Credit: Archant

“Nobody could find any holes in it,” he laughs. “I remember my grandad had no idea how I did it which made me feel good at the time.”

The seven times national award-winning magician and illusionist joins close-up magician and Royal favourite Fay Presto, classical magician Edward Hilsum and alternative magician Ali Cook at Champions of Magic, coming to Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre next Friday.

Expect some classics, new twists, death-defying stunts, mind-boggling sleight of hand and spectacular illusions.

“It’s a fantastic show... I wish I could sit in the audience and watch it some nights... audiences these days very rarely get a chance to see a really good magician - especially large-scale illusion - live,” says Penn, who’s gone from being the kid at school who used to show off by doing tricks to being a partner in a company selling them across Europe.

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Performing is clearly where his passion lies.

“I’ll be featuring my sawing in half illusion (in Chelmsford). I’m the only person who performs that with clear boxes so you get to see the girl inside while she’s cut in half. I’ll be featuring a couple of the illusions I did on Britain’s Got Talent, some audience participation, a trick with my dog Blammo - I don’t want to say what it is. It’s quite an experience if you’re there live.”

When he does watch other performers from the wings, does he ever wonder how it’s done?

“I very rarely get fooled by anything, you know how somebody writes a song, the process they’ve gone through but it still doesn’t stop you appreciating a great performance, especially when you see it live.”

With some new tricks up his sleeve, Penn - whose large scale illusion show earnt him the title of British Magic Champion and secured him a place in the BGT live finals, further than any other magician in the show’s history - says at the end of the day size doesn’t matter.

“It’s not about going bigger, it’s more about creating a variation on a theme that’s really going to connect with the audience, evolving the classic plots in magic and doing it in a new way that people go ‘wow, I’ve not seen that before’.”

A perfect example is a recent addition to his act, a modern take on the headchopper routine of the 1970s-1980s.

“It was a classic audience member in trouble plot where you’d put somebody in a guillotine style (device) and the blade would go through. A very old fashioned prop, people stopped using it, now that’s had new life breathed into it. I’ve had a version made in Las Vegas which has this 3ft circular saw and I get a member of the audience to push that through their partner’s neck.

“The great thing about seeing magic live, everybody understands the law of physics and science... when you see something that completely defies those laws it’s more amazing. Quite often people say ‘oh I didn’t think I like magic’. Most of the time it’s because they see it on television and it doesn’t connect in the same way it does live.”

Magic can be a competitive business, but not on this tour says Penn.

“We all do different genres of magic. Fay does close-up magic, Ed does the manipulation style that was popularised by Lance Burton who was in Vegas for many years. Everybody is very different so we’re getting different reactions. I think that’s one of the reasons the show works so well, you get to see such a cross-section of Champions of Magic.”

Hilsum describes himself as smart young face of modern British magic.

Joining The Magic Circle at 18, it sponsored him to develop his one-man show in Las Vegas. Within three years, Hilsum was performing throughout Europe and across America, from New York to Las Vegas and in 2012 was invited to perform at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and throughout the Games.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the art of the impossible. My parents bought me a toy magic set when I was just eight and it was fun, but the real turning point for me was seeing the incredible magician Lance Burton on television. He didn’t just do tricks, he used amazing skill to create magic. Watching Lance in Las Vegas is one of the most magical moments of my life,” says Hilsum, the youngest magician in the show.

“Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to meet him a few times and his advice has been invaluable in developing my own act. Lance inspired me to become serious about magic and to produce my first doves when I was 15... the rest is history”

He’s the youngest magician in the show and loves visual magic.

“What people may not realise is that some of the illusions I present are literally hundreds of years old. I like to take classic magic and give it a new modern twist,” adds psychology graduate Hilsum, who’s inspired by films, theatre, art and watching great performers whether they are a magician or not.

“Magic has the power to connect with people on an emotional level. So any performance that makes me really feel something somehow inspires my own work. My latest idea is called Silver and I love performing it. I decided I wanted to give one person from the audience a completely magical moment that would remain with them. But I wanted to give them this gift without using big props or equipment. The result seems simple but took over two years to create,”

He hopes Champions of Magic audiences have the same experience he had seeing his first real magician when he was eight.

“Who knows? Perhaps one of them will become a magic star of the future.”

Presto jokes she became a magician because she needed to eat.

“I open the second half with something a little out of the ordinary, in as much as anything in magic is ordinary,” says the royal favourite, who creates new tricks by seeing something odd and magnifying it. “Champions of Magic audience can expect an evening of enchantment.”

Ali Cook’s mum used to run a new age bookshop when he was a kid, sparking an interest in weird stuff from the occult books that would arrive for the shop.

“Then, of course, there was the Paul Daniels magic set one Christmas and I never looked back.”

His performances are inspired by watching Steve Martin do stand up from the 1970s.

“I remember thinking if there was a magician with a persona like that then that would be a magician I’d want to watch,” adds Cook, who has written and starred in seven TV series, the highlight of which was making Secret World of Magic for Sky One when he got to meet loads of his magic heroes.

His favourite performance was on Penn and Teller Fool us when he did the oldest trick in magic - swapping the heads of a chicken and a duck. His favourite trick changes all the time.

“At the moment it’s swallowing and regurgitating goldfish. It’s not so much a trick as a snack,” says Cook, who would like to make dance music like Daft Punk if he wasn’t a magician.

“I carry a notebook and jot down the silliest idea that falls randomly into my head. I spend hours twiddling cards and coming up with rubbish and then occasionally I’ll get a Eureka moment and it all falls into place.”

He can’t wait for Champions of Magic to start at Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre tonight.

“Four of Britain’s top magicians doing every type and style of magic – from stage illusion, to appearing doves to mind-reading. it’s like a sketch show of magic.”