Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Arch Disbeliever

John Nevil Maskelyne was a Victorian magician who gained notoriety by challenging spiritualists to prove they weren't charlatans fraudulently misleading audiences. He was known by some as 'The Arch Disbeliever' for his ceaseless challenges through the law courts.

His career began when he watched the Davenport Brothers act in Cheltenham and worked out the technique they were using to create the illusion of a spirit manifestation. Shortly afterwards he recreated the illusion, and pronounced it to be a spirit free demonstration - but not everyone was convinced.

A family legend followed him around about a deal his ancestors made with a Mysterious Gentleman who gave him and his forebears supernatural powers. And JN himself did become the most famous magician in the world, known today as the father of modern magic, and lending his name to an annual award given by the Magic Circle for services to British Magic -  won incidentally this year by the fabulous Debbie McGee for her work with the late and rather wonderful Paul Daniels.

JN Maskelyne died in 1917, but will be returning to the stage in just a few weeks time - 100 years after his death in a play called 'The Mysterious Gentleman'.

The play follows his rise to fame, his many challenges in court, but also his struggle to cling to his disbelief in an afterlife. Despite his disbelief in the spirit world, his dying wish was to find a way back if he possibly could. So is there a danger in calling him to return live (probably not the right term, but you know what I mean) onstage?

For the company producing my play it's a difficult question. We all have our own beliefs and hopes about the existence of an afterlife, but even as an open minded skeptic I can't help feeling a tingle of excitement as we mark the anniversary of his death with a performance featuring his story.

Will the real JN be watching? Will he be pleased to see how we're telling his story? We'll have to wait and see.

But you can join us for that journey at the Courtyard Theatre in London when the play opens on Halloween.


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