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Print Version

New Zealand Festival 2014
Writer and performer: Rob Drummond
The Arches/Rob Drummond (United Kingdom)

at Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
From 22 Feb 2014 to 28 Feb 2014
[1hr 15 mins (no interval)]

Reviewed by Lori Leigh, 23 Feb 2014

Known as ‘Chekhov's gun', there's an old saying — a proverb of the theatre, if you will — that states if you're going to introduce a gun on stage in the first act, then it had better go off by the second or third act. Bullet Catch does not disappoint. No spoiler alert needed; the premise of this show is a loaded gun, introduced in the title of the piece, and fired at the end. 

A bullet-catch is the notorious, deadly feat of magic wherein the performer catches a marked bullet between his teeth. The first, and arguably the biggest, challenge of such a trick in this show becomes who will fire the gun in a one-man show at the one man.  

“Is it possible to make someone do something they don't want to do?” questions Rob Drummond, or William Wonder as he calls himself, as he begins the show in search of an audience volunteer. Through a process of elimination (I won't spoil the fun and reveal it here), Drummond narrows down the search to three and then lands on a single integral individual whom he invites to join him onstage for the duration of the show.   

Of course the real key to a successful magic trick (as I understand it) is all in the set-up and ‘performance' of the trick.  The framing of Bullet Catch is the story of an early twentieth-century magician, William Henderson, a friend and protégé of Harry Houdini, and Charles Garth, a shipyard labourer, who shot him in the face during a 1912 ‘bullet-catch' gone wrong.  Or did it?  Why would a seemingly non-violent man suddenly fire a gun in the face of another man in front of a crowd of 2,000 people? Was the bullet-catch really just a ploy so Henderson could embrace nihilist views and end his own life?

The audience volunteer is cast in the role of Garth and prompted to read snippets of letters sent from Garth to his sister, which document the aftermath of inadvertently killing a man.  Reality and illusion, happiness and melancholia, risk and reward are all explored with humour, philosophical undercurrents, and magic.

Woven with the story of Henderson and Garth is Drummond's own magic show where much of the magic involves psychic readings of the audience volunteer.  One trick prompts her (on opening night the volunteer is a woman) to vividly imagine a happy memory while Drummond guesses details surrounding the event such as the date and other person involved. Though not entirely accurate, it's impressive how close Drummond's mindreading gets to specific information without much to go on. 

Other times the volunteer is asked to choose the path of ‘kill', ‘save', or ‘love' — the three primal options Freud suggests run through our head when we first meet people.  Here lies the crux. I find the bullet-catch itself, for all the lead-up to it, rather anti-climatic.  For me, the beauty of the show isn't the white rabbit but the hat.

Bullet Catch is, by and large, about Drummond meeting, and bonding with, his audience volunteer. Perhaps this is the greatest magic in the piece: the way he is able to sensitively obtain her trust and get her open up to a total stranger. With quick-witted charm and confidence, Drummond easily establishes this rapport with not only his volunteer but also the entire audience. “This is not magic,” he says, “This is a conversation.”

But the show itself implies that conversation — the connection between people — is a form of magic, not in the sense of illusion, but in the way of its transformative ability.  Other people offer us hope, a reason to get out of bed or ‘catch the bullet'. 

A synthesis of stage play and traditional magic show, Bullet-Catch is an entertaining, thoughtful and unique performance experience.
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See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);