Master of illusion gives Ghost The Musical an extra dimension
Paul Kieve was interviewed by Paul Taylor for the Manchester Evening News on 26 April 2011. Full article here.
There’s a rule in magic that you never do a trick twice, says illusionist Paul Kieve. But he cheerfully breaks that rule in Ghost The Musical at Manchester’s Opera House. Three times, we see a character die, and their ghost rise up in startled realisation, looking back at their own mortal remains lying on stage. How on earth did they do that, you wonder?
Kieve – a member of the Magic Circle – is not about to answer that question. But he does admit that creating these illusions has been a collaborative process. The set for Ghost The Musical was designed from the start with Kieve’s illusions in mind. And he has had to share at least some of the tricks of his trade with the crew who make them happen nightly.
We see ghosts moving into and taking over the bodies of the living, a ghost walking through a door and trying to grasp objects through which his hand passes. And then there is a spellbinding finale involving Richard Fleeshman as the ghostly Sam Wheat which, without giving anything away, really will have you scratching your head and reaching for the hankie at the same time.
“I didn’t realise, but we had a lot of magicians in on the first preview and they wrote to me afterwards,” says Kieve. “They were all really nice comments, and a lot said they were totally fooled by it.
“And I’ve learned a lot from the audience reaction. It’s reinvigorated me in terms of my believing how strong magic and illusion can be when you do it live.
“With a new show, you only know what you’ve got when you put it in front of an audience. With Ghost, the reaction on the first preview, I’ll never forget it. The sight of the entire audience standing as soon as the curtain touched the floor was pretty moving.”
The show has been created by Bruce Joel Rubin, whose screenplay for the 1990 Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore movie won him an Oscar in 1990, and is directed by Matthew Warchus. Staging a production in which the leading man is dead for most of the story provides some unusual challenges. Kieve has been working since August 2009 to create all the illusions which make these ghostly goings-on plausible.
“The thing about my work is that I can’t just go to a book and say, ‘How do you do the split-body thing’. So it’s a constant work in progress,” says Kieve. “I don’t really know what I’ve got until I see it on stage. I have to work with the lighting and the actors.”
Kieve has now seen the show 18 times and was still making tweaks up until the day before returning to his home in Hackney, London. After completing its run on May 14, Ghost the Musical will be London-bound, too, opening at the Piccadilly Theatre on June 22.
It’s another highlight on the CV of an illusionist whose love affair with magic began at the age of ten. Performing was in the genes, his mum Millie, who grew up in Manchester, having acted with Stretford Children’s Theatre.
Kieve, now aged 43, worked for five years in a magic double act, doing clubs and cruise ships. His big ambition had been to work in Las Vegas – home of the big illusion shows such as Siegfried and Roy, who would magic lions and tigers from thin air.
But, in 1991, Kieve was hired as magic advisor for a stage version of The Invisible Man. Since then, he has worked on stage productions of The Witches, Our House, Lord of the Rings and Scrooge The Musical. He also created some magical effects for the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and tutored actor Daniel Radcliffe.
Kieve has also worked with Derren Brown.
“People don’t see him as a magician, although he explains he is,” says Kieve.
“He’s found a very clever way to frame mystery. He’s also taken himself by surprise in terms of how good he is live. He’s a natural showman.”
Over the years, Kieve has accumulated 2,000 books on the history of magic, and is interested in particular in the 1860s when optics in magic – smoke and mirrors – coincided with a fascination for spiritualism and ghosts.
It was at this time that a chemical engineer, John Henry Pepper, adapted the work of inventor Henry Dircks to create “Pepper’s Ghost” – a means of creating a holographic ghost image which could appear on a theatrical stage.
“This was one of the most famous stage effects ever done,” says Kieve. “There’s this whole era I’m fascinated with and has hugely influenced what we do on stage here. What you are seeing is partly state-of-the-art technology, but partly stuff that was thought about in the 1860s.”