the magician who’s gone from Broadway to Zoom

Chris Cox has been dealing with the brave new world of Zoom – Chris Cox Like a terrible magician – think Tommy Cooper at his most maladroit – the Chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to be under the delusion that if he trots out a few hocus-pocus words about those the […]

Chris Cox has been dealing with the brave new world of Zoom  - Chris Cox 
Chris Cox has been dealing with the brave new world of Zoom – Chris Cox

Like a terrible magician – think Tommy Cooper at his most maladroit – the Chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to be under the delusion that if he trots out a few hocus-pocus words about those the government has helped since the pandemic, then – hey presto! – the near three million workers who’ve fallen through the cracks of state support will vanish.

But the ‘Excluded’ cannot be spirited away. They’re getting more visible, and growing louder with every passing day of financial distress. If Sunak wanted to apprise himself of the desperate situation many toiling tax-payers found themselves in this year, he need only summon mentalist magician Chris Cox for a meeting at Number 11.

Raved about by Ricky Gervais (“He’ll blow your mind”), Cox, who this time last year was playing Broadway as part of the hit magic show The Illusionists, thereafter touring the US until the curtain fell in March, has turned his hand to ‘virtual mind-reading’ sessions for Christmas and beyond, after a torrid period of mounting anxiety. 

Though he bills himself as “the mind reader who can’t read minds”, he’d love to try and fathom what’s going on in the Chancellor’s head. “I’d like to try some mind-reading on Rishi Sunak,” he says.

As with beleaguered circus-acts, magicians have barely featured in the coverage of the stricken performing arts scene. But magic is consummately theatrical. In Cox’s case, his savvy has been applied to a stage sensation – he has served as magic and illusions assistant on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (other credits include bringing a wow-factor to Barnum at the Menier Chocolate Factory). But with the playhouses largely closed throughout the year (and in London newly reopened then brutally closed again) his income plummeted to zero.

Cox – who may seem oddly familiar, even if you didn’t catch his show on CBBC, on account of his chirpy garrulity and a geekiness that belies his 36 years – explains all. The crux of his misfortune was that he operated as the sole director of his own company, partly a requirement owing to insurance liability issues as a stage act.

Chris Cox pictured during The Illusionists stage show  - Darren Thomas 
Chris Cox pictured during The Illusionists stage show – Darren Thomas

“I paid myself via PAYE and dividends. That approach was taken – on the advice of my accountant – as the government’s preferred method. The PAYE cut-off point they used – which I believe has now just finally changed – meant I couldn’t furlough myself. I couldn’t claim any business rate relief either because my assets are on stage. I set up the company and paid my taxes the way they told me. Saving for a pension via a lifetime ISA made me unable to claim for Universal Credit – they count as savings even though you can’t access them. When people hear ‘director of a company’ they think of Jeff Bezos but that’s far from the reality. I’ve lost out on every possible option.”Having done a lot of work in the past as a BBC radio producer he applied for radio jobs in the summer, only to find employment prospects scarce. “I initially thought – ‘At least I’ve got radio to fall back on’ – then came to the conclusion: ‘Oh maybe I don’t’”. 

He has worked through most of his savings in order to sustain himself, his wife and two children – his youngest a babe in arms. Had he not had those, “without a doubt I would have been bankrupt and homeless.” As it is, the money had been saved to move the family to his home-town of Bristol; that dream has now ebbed away. 

The campaign group Excluded UK has reported distress-related suicides. How has it affected his mental health? “It has made me very depressed and anxious at times. It’s pushing people over the edge. It’s unfathomable that we’re so far down the line and haven’t had support all that time.”

Though he bills himself as “the mind reader who can’t read minds” he’d love to peer inside the Chancellor’s head. “You don’t need to be a great mind-reader to see how he deflects the questions but what I find fascinating when watching politicians is seeing the moment they stop being human. It’s as if they slip into a character.”

“The lack of parity is sickening,” he continues – alluding to those so well looked after by the furlough scheme they’ve been able to buy new kitchens and book holidays. Many from his world are in the same boat. “People who do stage magic are screwed. Covid means you can’t get someone to pick a card from a deck of cards.”

That said, there has been a burgeoning attempt to relocate the realm of magic online, especially with the Christmas party season upon us. Cox held back, instinctively, for a time – worried about creating something that looked fly-by-night or naff. At the same time, much of his stage-act depended on its tactility. “The way I structure my live shows is to come out and say that mind-reading works when I get physical – ‘So if I touch you, or you touch me, we get into sync, we make a connection, and I can read your mind. It’s time to touch me!’ That’s the cheeky opening gambit and it doesn’t apply in Covid times.”

Chris Cox during his Zoom stage show  - Dominic Cavendish
Chris Cox during his Zoom stage show – Dominic Cavendish

His new 30-minute-ish Zoom show – orchestrated at his home and available to groups as small as a family or as large as a corporate gathering (prices ranging accordingly) – has managed to bypass this issue. There are stand-in exercises at the start to get his audience “connected”. I should know: he offers me (sceptical teenage daughter sitting alongside at the laptop) a tantalising showcase, beginning by getting us to circle our right feet one way, only somehow to make them involuntarily move anti-clockwise. “Now we’re in sync!”

Suffice it to say that at each turn, whether it’s showing us  – ta-da! – that he already knew number I would choose between 1 and 100 or fathoming the colour of a playing-card I’ve chosen by getting me to picture it, I’m blissfully bamboozled throughout. “I like seeing people’s belief systems crumbling. I’ve missed seeing that look on people’s faces of wonder, excitement, joy and ‘what the hell is this?’.”

His new 30-minute-ish Zoom show – orchestrated at his home and available to groups as small as a family or as  large as a corporate gathering (prices ranging accordingly) – has managed to bypass this issue. There are stand-in exercises at the start to get his audience “connected”. I should know: he offers me (sceptical teenage daughter sitting alongside at the laptop) a tantalising showcase, beginning by getting us to circle our right feet one way, only somehow to make them involuntarily move anti-clockwise. “Now we’re in sync!”

On stage he pulls off such wonders as getting an audience member to choose clothing items – out of sight – only to return to find Cox wearing the same outfit, telling audience-members particular personal information no stranger could know, guessing the celebrity they’re thinking of (affirming that, sometimes, by wearing a relevant costume), and getting someone to spit into a bottle of water before taking a sip himself to tell them what they ate earlier that day – and more besides. 

Online, Cox predicts the numbers his audience will think of, and much else, gives one of the group the temporary powers of a mind-reader and creates a what-just-happened? moment by asking his guests to do what they want with a piece of paper, only to achieve a pre-ordained result (no spoilers here!). I only get a small sample, but suffice it to say that at each turn, whether it’s showing us  – ta-da! – that he already knew number I would choose between 1 and 100 or somehow fathoming the colour of a playing-card I’ve chosen by getting me to picture it, I’m blissfully bamboozled throughout.

“I like seeing people’s belief systems crumbling. I’ve missed seeing that look on people’s faces of wonder, excitement, joy and ‘what the hell is this?’. Human beings are infinitely manipulable. Look at what magicians have been doing forever. Look at how theatre and films manipulate our feelings and thoughts. It’s all the same world!”

He has done some 20 online shows this month, including playing to several hundred people. Although he has bits of technical wizardry to assist him – a second screen to ensure he can monitor facial reactions up-close – it must be nerve-wracking? “Yes, it’s a weird mixture of intimidating and lonely. I’ve even been up at 3am, performing for Americans – you’ve got to get all that energy across without the usual dynamic.” 

An added element of risk is the slight time-lag online. He uses an array of techniques, influencing and intuition included. “Based on how long it takes someone to respond to something I know whether they are thinking through, overthinking or over-overthinking a choice. I now have to factor in that instead of thinking time, it might just be the Zoom delay.”

Can things go wrong? “Sure, but you plan for that, so the audience won’t know it.”

Any pluses? “The bigger gigs are actually easier than usual – you can just mute the drunk people!”

Details of Chris Cox’s virtual shows at at magiccox.com

Source Article

Next Post

Sun Dec 20 , 2020