By Rob Drummond. Directed by Rob Drummond and David Overend. Produced by the Arches (Glasgow) and presented by the Arts Club and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Arts Club’s Revue Stage on Wednesday, January 21. Continues until February 7
You kind of want the magic in a magic show to be dazzling, as opposed to pretty good. But pretty good is what Rob Drummond offers in Bullet Catch.
Drummond isn’t a full-time magician; he’s a theatremaker who learned new skills for this show. That’s the strength—and also the significant weakness—of Bullet Catch.
In this 75-minute piece, Drummond tells the fictional story of a magician named William Henderson, who performed the bullet-catch—in which an illusionist appears to catch in his teeth a bullet that’s been fired by an audience volunteer—but who ended up being killed doing the trick in 1815.
Drummond, who wrote the show and performs it with the help of a lone volunteer, is charismatic, joking easily and wittily with the audience. And the narrative framework that he has created is sometimes affecting: the labourer who volunteered in Henderson’s show and killed him, to his horror, writes letters from jail, and the burden he bears becomes palpable.
With its rich browns, Victorian photos, and period typography, Francis Gallop’s stage design is handsome.
But when I talked with other audience members after the show, we deconstructed—pretty successfully, I think—two of the major tricks. The essential mechanics of a third were apparent, even during the performance. Other illusions remained mysterious, but I don’t think that the audience should have such a good batting average.
Thematically, Drummond explores the notion of free will, which makes for a nice fit with the form of the evening, which is all about the manipulation of perceptual choices. This exploration doesn’t go very deep, however: Drummond simply dismisses free will, which feels simplistic.
And the climax of the evening goes flat. Don’t read further if you don’t want to know what it is, but it’s clear from the get-go that Drummond will ask the volunteer to shoot a gun at his face. By the time we get there, however, it’s so obvious that there’s no real danger that the passage fizzles.
Magic shows are better when magicians do them.