Celebrity Interview
Simon Drake: The Inside Magic Interview

Inside Magic, 3 October 2005
By Tim Quinlan

Simon Drake has been a significant player in magic on both sides of the Atlantic for years. He is a mainstay in the world of magic news.

His work spans genres and generations in large part because he is able to offer magic and magic advice that helps to spotlight the project at hand. He has worked with Sir Cameron Mackintosh (producer of our favorite 'Les Miserables') on the recent hit 'The Witches of Eastwick'.

Metal fans like us will recall he was the illusionist on the Iron Maiden tour in 1993-94 and featured in the band's outstanding live film of the concert.

He has established the place to see and be seen in London by building the Simon Drake's House of Magic. All of his work has been favorably reviewed in the magic news and information world.

It was no surprise, then, Kenneth Branagh would call on Mr. Drake to consult on the magic used in the new London play, 'Ducktastic'. The play is based on a mixture of a magic duck, down-and-out magicians, and the over-the-top spirit of Siegfried & Roy.

Mr. Drake was kind enough to answer some questions about his life, his work, and his plans.

What support did you receive from your family in the very earliest days of your magic ventures?
My family are in medicine on both sides going back generations. My father died when I was twelve and would most definitely NOT have approved of magic becoming a profession. However my mother was encouraging in whatever I or my siblings wanted to do.

What would you say was your big break in the world of magic?
Kate Bush's tour in 1979 was my first break really and that led to numerous TVs and other stuff. In Kate's tour I played seven really contrasting characters all doing magic of a sort and also wrote the visuals with Kate and her brothers over the preceding year. Most of the press thought I was seven different performers.

What has been, out of all the big illusions you have performed, your favorite to present?
Not sure I have favourites but amongst them I would say 'The Impaler' that I made for 'Raising Hell' with Iron Maiden and the 'Head Off' that we perform at 'The House of Magic'.

Speaking of which, The Simon Drake's 'House of Magic' has received very positive reviews as one of the places to see and be seen in the UK Magic and celebrity world. Could you tell us a little about it?
Yes it's a permanently themed 4000 sq ft Victorian venue totally dedicated to my take on magic and illusion. I built a 'Haunted Cellar' with many optical effects and forgotten illusions as well as a few new ideas.

'The Whispering Chair' which started as a cold reading thing but now utilises a real clairvoyant, where each audience member get their fortunes told in three minutes.

My show is just under an hour and we specialise in light hearted amputations and decapitations of celebs and senior executives, as well as my floating candle, cane and knife thru arm as well as a lot of other things and original illusions.

The whole thing is a full six-hour evening of entertainment from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am with great food and a reasonably priced bar, three close-up magicians and dancing.

If you had to be remembered for one effect in your lifetime - which effect would it be and why?
The 'Silhouette Routine' from 'Secret Cabaret, Series Two'. It threw the rule book away in terms of originality and included a new principle that impressed many learned magic folk at the time. Check it out, it's at the very end. Also possibly 'The Impaler' or my 'Floating Cane', sorry but that's a hard one.

Who do you consider to be your biggest influences in your magic, both past and present? Who are among your favorite magicians, both past and present?
Past: De Kolta, Devant and Jarrett. Channing Pollock for presentation

Present: The Amazing Johnathan. He must be the funniest man in magic and the new parts of his show are so funny although not ice-breaking in a magical sense.

Teller is also really inventive and a nice chap.

Steve Fearson and Kevin James must be amongst the most underated and unpraised inventors of our generation.

Do you like to scare your audiences?
Sometimes yes but I would rather think of it as peddling adrenaline and endorphins to an expectant crowd. So it's not just being scary but rather a whole gammit from fear to laughter to enchantment and awe.

How did you become involved in the Ducktastic Project?
I was approached by the producers, David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers and inspite of my insistence that they use Paul Kieve or Jim Steinmeyer as they are full time magic advisors and I am more of a performer and inventor they still wanted me to take it on.

This was possibly due to my 'take' on magic, visual humour and their view that I come up with original work. Then the two stars and creators, Hamish McColl and Sean Foley came over and acted the whole thing out in my sitting room and it was so funny that I couldn't refuse.

I had reservations about working with animals as it's something I have always avoided but was reassured that Dave Souser who is one of the best animal trainers in the world was in charge of the ducks and was satisfied that he would deal with them with great care, which he has. Dave trained the squirrels for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and did all the Harry Potter movies.

Did you work with Kenneth Branagh on prior projects? He was quoted in a press release as calling your work Brilliant. That's quite a compliment.
No, I hadn't but I have to say what a very kind, nice man he is and a real pleasure to work with.

We note you also worked on 'The Witches of Eastwick' project, also termed Brilliant by critics. Do you enjoy working with theatrical productions?
Yes I do to a point but it's been frustrating as actors don't seem to want to rehearse the magic as painstakingly as magicians know they have to but we got there with 'Witches' and are getting there with 'Ducktastic'.

When does Ducktastic open and what's it about?
'Ducktastic' opens at the Albery Theatre in London's west end on 18th October 2005. It is a pastiche of the big Las Vegas magic shows but set in a small 900 seater playhouse.

The story is about a pair of illusionists that have lost their wild animal license and are only allowed to use one duck. There are about 18 illusions and effects in the show and quiet a few of them are original.

I have had about a dozen prop builders and effects folk working on it with me, most of the bigger magic effects have been built by Paul Cooke, who has done a good job and has been a lot of fun to work with. This show is very funny and totally daft.

Does it require a different skill set?
Yes it requires a great deal of patience and co-operation with other departments, not always as easy as it sounds.

What was it like working with the incredible Cameron Mackintosh?
I have known Cameron for many years as he was very keen for me to play Magical Mephistopheles in 'Cats', which I turned down mostly because I am not a singer and it was a musical crammed full of songs.

I was quite aware of how big of a hit potential it had but didn't care as I am not that keen on most musicals and knew my limitations. When I eventually saw the show I was pleased with my decision as I found it hard to watch and cringed at all those actors in silly make up and leotards.

Working with Cameron was great fun and as he is something of a perfectionist, quite hard work too but that suits me.

Thank you, Mr. Drake for taking the time to talk with us.
Thank you for your interest in my work.

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