Paul Kieve Q&A: What’s On Magazine, Birmingham
What’s On Magazine, Birmingham, 2004
What is your background in magic?
I became interested in magic at around the age of 10 on receiving a magic set from my parents. By the age of 14 I was determined to be able to present big stage illusions. I started off building them out of cardboard boxes from Sainsbury’s , and eventually built a “Zig Zag Lady” box in the school woodwork room during my lunch hours – much to the surprise of my woodwork teacher as prior to this I had shown absolutely no interest in woodwork whatsoever. I presented it at the school Christmas show.
When I was 16 I was asked to double for (then unknown) singer Sade’s hands on her first pop video – Your Love is King. I had to have my arms shaved and nail polish applied so that my hands looked like hers (I should point out I have quite small hands and even at 16 quite hairy arms). I had to bunk off school for a day in order to do the video. The video was shown all over the world. I remember a relative calling me from the US saying they had seen my hands on television! I guess that was what made me decide I wanted to do it full time – it beat doing school work “hands” down.
Around the same time I started doing magic competitions – I was runner up in The Young Magician Of The Year competition in 1985, and won a national competition assisted by my sister, Karen. I left school to turn “Pro” and spent my first summer season working as resident support act to such diverse acts as Bob Monkhouse, Bernard Manning, Gloria Gaynor and Chubby Brown. It was great getting the experience of working for such different audiences. Later on I went into a double act for around five years performing around the world. then I was asked to devise the stage effects for The Invisible man stage production at the Theatre Royal Stratford East (directed by Birmingham born Ken Hill). The show featured over 50 magic effects (it is even in the Guinness Book Of Records as the most magical effects in stage play!). My work was very well reviewed and the show went into the West End for 9 months. It lead to a lot of doors opening in the theatre world. The original production of The Witches in 1992 was only the third stage show I had worked on.
Tell us about your involvement with The Witches at The Rep
David Wood ,writer and original director, was keen for me to come back and work on this new production. In addition to working on the two touring & West End versions of the original production, I had worked on the Birmingham Old Rep production in 1999. So I guess I know the piece pretty well! I am very fond of it – I think it’s such a great yarn. I met Jonathan Church and Simon Higlett back in March to start planning this new version. Generally I have refined what I did originally rather than totally change it. There are not that many ways you can change people into mice.
What other stage productions have you worked on… and what other aspects of your work might we have seen?
They include Sam Mendes production of “The Tempest ” at the RSC Stratford Upon Avon where I had to materialise a banquet, Scrooge with Tommy Steele (which opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome last year) where I was responsible for the apparitions, English National Ballet’s Alice In Wonderland where Alice had to shrink and grow amongst other things, Our House the Madness Musical with its’ “Sliding Doors” style story line literally involving the lead actor seemingly being in two places at once, The Ghost Train – a theatre show inside a real Ghost Train ride. Amongst the odder requests in shows are limbs being hacked off in Grimm Tales, one of the leads in The Witches of Eastwick having to vomit a number of items whilst singing a “belter” number, Moses changing his rod into a snake in “the Mysteries”. On a totally different front if you have a copy of the latest “Guinness Book of Records” you may have seen a double page spread on magic and illusion – a first for the book, which I compiled. I was honoured to be invited to their 50th anniversary party, and it was most enjoyable meeting the man with the loudest burp and having tea with the lady with the loudest scream. I was also a series consultant on the last Derren brown series “Trick Of The Mind” and his one-off “Seance” special, as well as a consultant and frequent contributer to the very recent BBC History Of Magic series.
Highlight for you of The Witches?
The last scene between the boy and the grandmother – it always makes me cry.
What kind of tricks/effects are you responsible for?
It is my job to tame snakes, and transform people into mice nightly. A hidden part of my work is the important fact that they have to be changed back again before the next show.
What ? if any ? were obstacles you had to overcome to make effects come to life on stage?
It is always a collaborative process incorporating illusions into stage shows. Therefeore I have to work closely with the designer, director, lighting designer and actors to make the illusions work. They have all been great on The Witches so it has not been too difficult!
Is it harder because they are live unlike in film?
Yes – on film you only have to capture an effect once – from one camera positioned exactly where you want to put it. You look at the rushes and choose the best take- then you have it forever. On stage the same thing has to happen every night, you only have one shot at it, and it is viewed from much wider angles.
You worked on the last Harry Potter film ? tell us about that. How was it, what did you do… any good on-set stories?
They had never had a real magician work on the films before – that was the initiative of the director of the third movie – Alfonso Cuaron. I was involved with a total of 6 scenes. One scene – where all the kids were doing tricks from Zonkos Joke Shop in the Great Hall was cut from the movie but has made it as a deleted scene on the DVD. I make a cameo appearance in The Three Broomsticks pub and I am honoured to be the first magician to perform magic “live” in any of the films! Essentially I added mainly background activity to a number of scenes (clue – look behind Ian Brown!!). I also designed, constructed and operated the last full-screen effect shot in the movie – the Maurauder’s Map folding itself up, and created floating spheres in the astronomy room. One of the highlights for me of working on the movie was working with the production designer Stuart Craig – he is an unbelievable genius and totally humble despite having won three Oscars. A fun spin-off from the movie has been spending a lot of time teaching Daniel Radcliffe magic which he has taken up as a hobby. He has practiced a lot and is particularly good at the “Linking Rings” trick which is not easy to do. During the filming of “Azkaban” he was keeping people entertained on the set with card tricks.
Will you be involved in the fourth?
I have already met with the producers and the new director Mike Newall a few times and provided some pre-production consultancy, but Mike is working in a different way and I am not involved in day-to-day filming.
Favourite magician/illusionist and why?
Doug Henning – you may not have heard of him, He was a Canadian magician who became famous in the 1970’s – sadly died in 2000. His performing style was focussed on sharing the experience of “wonder” with his audience – not about trying to make himself look clever. He was also the first to revive the really great illusions of the “Golden Age” of magic.