Magic Consultant John Bulleid talks about his work on new musical ‘The Magician’s Elephant’ produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company
Magic – (Verb) To move, change, or create as if by magic. A phenomenon often attributed to mythological tales, magic is a key component of the fantasy world, a means to manipulate circumstances, matter and time. Expanding on this facet further in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new musical The Magician’s Elephant, Illusion Designer and Magic Consultant John Bulleid – whose credits include When Darkness Falls at The Park Theatre, The Ocean at the End of the Lane which he is the Illusion Associate of, playing at the West End as well as being the current Magic and Illusion Assistant of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tells us more about his creative process!
Hi John, you’re currently working on the RSC’s new musical, The Magician’s Elephant as Illusion Designer and Magic Consultant. How does it feel to be a part of this new production?
This production really is a dream come true. I have long admired the work of the RSC and to be creating such a magical piece with them is just incredible. I’m consistently amazed by the talent we have in the room, both on and off stage – the ambition within the company is stunning. I am incredibly proud of my involvement with the show, excited about what we want to bring to the stage and exhilarated by the process we are following.
The Magician’s Elephant is based on international best-selling author Kate DiCamillo’s book, a tale of an orphan living a frugal life in the lonely town of Baltese before the appearance of an elephant from the sky conjured up by a magician sets off a chain of remarkable events. What inspired you to take part in this vivid production?
When I got the call from Sarah (our director) about the show, her enthusiasm and clear love of magic really pulled me in. To work with a director who is so focused on sharing the incredible feeling of wonder we get from magic, and who is so driven to make it work on such a prestigious stage – made the decision to join the creative team an absolute no brainer! It was this, matched with the stunning source material giving us the freedom to create a magical world where amazing things can happen.
How have you approached crafting the show’s magical element?
With all my projects, I begin with the script and look for moments that may require magic, or magic principles to help elevate the story telling. I then have detailed discussions with my director about their vision for the piece – and any particular magical references they may be thinking of. This then informs what sort of effects would be at home within the world we are creating, and in turn the sort of methods and concepts I can play with. I also discuss what is possible from a technical point of view with our production manager – and do site visits to explore what options we may have in the theatre.
You’re also working on the illusion design for When Darkness Falls at The Park Theatre, you’re an Illusion Associate of The Ocean at the End of the Lane in the West End as well as resuming your role as Illusion Assistant on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child also in the West End. What has the creative process involved for these shows and what have you learned from taking part in these productions?
When Darkness Falls is now open at The Park Theatre and then heading on tour. I follow a similar process for all my shows – the story always comes first and any effect or illusion I create must benefit the narrative of the piece. Being associate or assistant on bigger shows like Harry Potter or Ocean at the End of the Lane is so important to me. The learning curve I’ve had from joining the teams on these bigger projects has been immense. It really shows me the detail into which we can delve to create effects, and how we can utilise all the technology the theatre has to offer to deliver them to the audience.
What inspired you to become a magician?
From a young age I’m told I was always making up stories or doing puppet shows – that type of thing. Thankfully my parents recognised I had a desire to perform and they gave me a magic set to do that with. Once I started learning I was hooked – and quickly came inspired by the world of magic in its entirety. I love the thought process that goes in to creating effects, and then hearing stories of old magicians captivating people with the most incredible feats. I think the main inspiration for me is the story telling ability it gives you as a performer. When you invite an audience to start following a routine – you are asking them to buy in to a world where anything is possible, and it is your job as the magician to convince them that what they are seeing is real.
What can audiences expect from The Magician’s Elephant?
The plan is for the audience to join us on a magical journey through a stunning story, filled with beautiful music and magic. It is at heart a story of friendship and, certainly in my opinion, the view there are worlds elsewhere – if only we know the right places to look!
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I would love the audience to leave after the show having witnessed the impossible happen right before their eyes. The music is incredible, so evocative and expertly delivered. The set and staging we are creating is mind boggling and so much fun to use magical principles to add another layer to the stage craft. My plan is for them to leave reminded of the power of live theatre, feeling that collective sense of wonder sweep the auditorium and having experienced a story so stunning they want to come back and do it all again.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
The Magician’s Elephant will show from Thursday 14th October 2021 until Saturday 1st January 2022 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…
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