Bullet Catch: How to shoot a magician

Bullet Catch
New Zealand Festival
Downstage Theatre
Until February 28

The Bullet Catch is one of the great stage shows often performed by illusionists and magicians. The performer chooses a volunteer to shoot a bullet at them and they catch it in their mouth.  It should be a pretty safe routine as all illusionist acts are really about fooling the audience into a belief in the reality of what they see. Unfortunately sometimes in the Bullet Catch hasn’t quite work and the illusionist was killed.

This is the background to the killing of William Henderson in 1912. Even the great Harry Houdini warned him about proceeding but he ended up being shot by a volunteer from the audience Charles Garth who subsequently was tried for murder although he was acquitted in the end.

Rob Drummond reprieves the Bullet Catch act in his show but leading up to the big act he inserts a few magic tricks and talks a lot.

As well as being a magician or illusionist Drummond is a raconteur, therapist, psychic, and philosopher. At times it is difficult to tell whether he is an actor or magician, whether he is an illusionist or an moralist as he frame his tricks as ethical rather then technical exercises.

He manages to create an apprehension and unease which increases throughout the show   building up to the big act but there are other curious and unsettling acts particularly one involving a broken beer bottle. With one of his tricks in which he levitates a table he ends up letting the audience in on the deception, showing us how it’s done through a hidden wire.

Like many similar acts Drummond gets a volunteer from the audience but unlike normal shows this volunteer, Claire stays on stage the whole time becoming his assistant and confidant. He talks to her and the audience about notions of free will and free choice leading up to Claire’s decision to proceed with the act of shooting a bullet at him. We know that he isn’t going to be shot, that he will end up with the bullet in his teeth but we are not sure how he is going to do it.

The whole exercise mirrors the whole of idea of artistic performance and that notion of the willing suspension of disbelief which we accord to actors.

Drummond is a consummate performer having the audience and his tricks in the palm of his hand in a riveting and tension filled show.

John Daly-Peoples attended the New Zealand Festival thanks to The New Zealand Festival and Quality Hotels

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