My new book, Dark Magic, features two troupes of magicians. One is using black magic in their act, but the other is made up of regular stage magicians and many of the tricks described are often featured in the magic shows that many of you may have seen.
There is a mention of Fay Presto’s “bottle through table” trick. Fay is a real person and a stalwart of the British (and, increasingly, international) magic scene. “Bottle through table” is one of her two signature tricks, the other being pinning a chosen card to the ceiling. The card trick is truly remarkable. A member of the audience selects a card, it is shuffled into the pack, and then Fay throws the pack and a thumb-tack at the ceiling. All the cards fall to the ground except one which is pinned to the ceiling. She doesn’t perform it often these days as fewer ceilings are made of the sort of tiles that it’s easy to pin things to and which burn so prettily when the place catches fire. She also claims that she no longer has quite the strength in her wrist needed to make a success of the trick. But in clubs in London and around the country you may still see playing cards pinned to the ceiling, proof that Fay once visited and nobody could be bothered to find a ladder long enough to recover the card.
Fay is very much in the old tradition of magic. The bread-and-butter of her work is performing in clubs and private parties, mainly doing close-up magic or “table magic”, so-called because the tricks are worked at restaurant tables where most (if not all) of the magician’s income comes from tips. Unless you have affluent friends or enjoy expensive clubs, it’s likely that you have never seen top-quality table magic, which is a shame. It’s probably the most demanding kind of magic there is. Big stage illusions can be practically self-working and, in any case, are carried out, as the name implies, on a stage where you have control of the lighting and, more importantly, the angle at which the audience sees the trick. The audience too, having paid good money to see you, desperately wants to be impressed. Table magicians, on the other hand, are working really close to an audience who may shuffle and move around or peer over from adjoining tables, meaning that the magician is never quite sure of their audience’s sightlines. Somebody at the table may not like magicians, somebody may be drunk – the table magician has to win them over. And the audience hasn’t paid for a ticket and, indeed, may be quite keen to convince themselves they haven’t seen anything worthy of a tip. Watching the likes of Fay Presto not only performing seriously high-end prestidigitation (she is often described by fellow professionals as one of the best close-up magicians in the world) but doing all this while quietly controlling the drunk, winning over the sceptic, and charming everybody else into generous payment for her act, is a pleasure.
Fay performed at my son’s wedding. He’s not rich, but he’s a good friend of hers and this was a generous gift. She’s about to pour a glass of wine into that newspaper and when the paper is torn up, not a drop of wine will be seen – and she’s doing this with people watching from behind her!
Fay, like a lot of magicians, has been seeing something of a career revival of late. Perhaps it’s a response to the grim reality around us these days that more and more people want to escape into a world of magic. Whatever the reason, it’s good news for the likes of Fay Presto and for those of us who appreciate the special wonder of an evening with people like her.
I hope that there is a touch of magic in my book as well.
Fay has weekly residencies at Langan’s Brasserie and The Ned in London. Other performances and contact information can be found at FayPresto.com
Dark Magic is available on kindle (mybook.to/DarkMagic) and now also in paperback ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Magic-Tom-Williams/dp/1916263518 )