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A Chat with Illusionist Paul Kieve About His New Show Limbo

The South Bank in London is once again home to the E4 Udderbelly, London Wonderground and brand new headline show 'Limbo' from the team behind last years hit 'Cantina' is running from now through to September.

The South Bank in London is once again home to the E4 Udderbelly, London Wonderground and brand new headline show. 'Limbo' from the team behind last years hit 'Cantina' is running from now through to September.

Set in the 1920s inspired Spiegeltent the show is a mix of circus, burlesque, live music and excitingly, illusion. Paul Kieve, then man behind the magic of Matilda the Musical, Ghost the Musical, the Hugo & Harry Potter films has been brought on board to create moments that allow audience members to witness the impossible become possible. I caught up with him for a quick chat ahead of the shows opening.

CC: A circus show with magic hasn't really been attempted before. Was magic always on the cards for 'Limbo'?

PK: "The idea of magic was always there when they were developing the show. However I've found working on it very different to the sort of effects I create for narrative theatre shows like 'Ghost' or 'Matilda'. The main body of 'Limbo' isn't the story but rather the extraordinary performers who do their own amazing things. So I had to find out what magic would fit into the show and what would work with the performers."

"In the end we shipped a whole load of stuff to rehearse with in Australia, where the show began just to see what might work. It's unusual for me as I normally design very bespoke material and this is the opposite. It's illusions as part of the show rather than to accompany the narrative. It's still very character driven though, there were some pieces that we cut which were great tricks but didn't fit with the characters. This is not a magic show though. Instead the illusions happen at significant points which fit with the characters and the performers."

The cast of Limbo. Photographer David Solm

CC: How is it creating magic that can be viewed in the round from every possible angle?

PK: "The show is so intimate, everyone is incredibly close to the action which is really exciting and very special. Going into the tent you feel like you're entering a fascinating and beguiling world, a place where anything can happen which is why the magic works. "

"I've done a few in the round shows in the past. I started off doing cabaret in the round on cruise ships, but over the last 20 years I've done a lot of stuff in the theatre, some of which has been in the round; things like ice shows and Batman Live. It's all about choosing the right material, certain things you can't do and certain things work wonderfully. I saw Cantina last year and I immediately suggested a few trick ideas that would fit in that environment and we went from there."

CC: Is there any pressure on to you to create something new which someone hasn't seen before?

PK: "The tricks are being driven by the character and the style of the show, so I don't spend too long worry whether people might have seen something like this before because by the time you've finished with it they wouldn't ever know. Most people coming to Limbo probably haven't seen much live illusion, it's been out of fashion in the UK. The people who see illusions the most are those who go on cruises. It's a complete contrast to Ghost where everything was bespoke and for those who've seen it the 'through the door effect' was completely new."

CC: Ghost the Musical is touring the UK at the moment with your illusions, how hard has it been making bespoke illusions work on a show that is constantly changing venue?

PK: "It's been a challenge, I was at Wimbledon yesterday making changes. Because of the timing of the tour I was in New York doing 'Matilda' and 'Pippin' so had an associate, Chris Fisher set it up but we had an enormous amount of Skype chats. The main challenge was making sure it fitted into every theatre. We had to start from the beginning again on walking through the door illusion, that was the most demanding. How exactly do you tour a massive optical effect was a huge question. It's a big touring show, but luckily we've managed to get it really close to what you saw in the West End."

CC: In terms of its integration of magic and theatre I don't think anyone has crafted illusions into a show as successfully.

PK: "That's very kind of you to say, it was hugely demanding to do that but as a kid, the director Matthew Warchus was fascinated with magic so he helped make sure it happened. People within the world of magic like Teller and David Copperfield adored the illusions. Copperfield said he hadn't felt that feeling of astonishment for many years which is very generous of him. It's a very different thing to Limbo.

CC: As magic continues its renaissance in the UK it's great to see so many different examples of this mesmerising art-form on different stages, be it mind-reading in my own show 'Fatal Distraction' (which is on tour now) or the mix of illusion and circus in the most intimate of settings in 'Limbo.' One things for sure. If you find your jaw on the floor at a theatrical illusion, then chances are, Paul Kieve's the man who made it happen.

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