by Catherine Blanch.

Following the outstanding success of internationally acclaimed The Illusionists and The Illusionists 2.0, the company’s creative minds have summoned an amazing new troupe featuring some of the world’s greatest magicians, conjurers, magicians, daredevils and mentalists to take audiences back in time to the Golden Age of Magic. The Illusionists 1903 is a celebration of when illusions were far more than meets the eye and illusionists were like rock gods.

Performing the magical characters of yesteryear are eight masters of illusion and charm: The Immortal (Rick Thomas), The Eccentric (Charlie Frye), The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin), The Showman (Mark Kalin), The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh), The Clairvoyants (Thommy Ten & Amelie van Tass) and The Maestro (Armando Lucero).

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

We speak with British-born Jonathan Goodwin – The Daredevil – who is at home in Florida, USA. Although he travels the world performing his art, this will be Jonathan’s first time to Australia. It’s also his first tour with The Illusionists.

1903 focuses on what is quintessentially the time of the world’s most famous illusionist, Harry Houdini,” he begins. “Once they put this show together, the only thing missing was an escape artist/daredevil. When I got that call I nearly bit my hand off [laughs] because so much of what I do is derivative of this time period.

“1903 to around 1930 was the time of the Victorian showman performances where the daredevil character was utterly unhampered by restrictions and insurance, so they did things that were so mind-blowingly amazing. One of my idols was a Victorian showman tight-rope walker from France called Charles Blondin, who was the first person to walk Niagara Falls. But when he did it, he was blindfolded, on stilts and turned somersaults along the way! Back then, performers would literally push the envelope in any possible direction that they could.”

Did he wear safety wires?

“No, not at all, and he lived to the ripe old age of 72,” Goodwin says. “Blondin exhibited at London’s Crystal Palace for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They strung a wire across the roof of the palace – which is actually higher than Niagara Falls – for him to walk across. At the time he used to walk across with his young daughter in a wheelbarrow, but when everybody complained, he swapped her for a full-grown male lion!

“Daredevil performers were crazy back then and would do anything. I love that extraordinary time period so to be able to recreate that to an audience, live on stage, is really exciting.”

The Illusionists 1903 - image by Dylan Evans - Adelaide Festival Theatre - The Clothesline

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

How did the life of a daredevil find you?

“I read a book about Harry Houdini when I was about seven,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Like any kid, I was fascinated with a character or a super hero, but I think what was particularly resonant to me about him was that he was real and actually did the things that I read about. It was pretty early on that I decided I wanted to be like him, although it wasn’t a straight road from epiphany to now and that was that. There was a time between aged 7-15 when I discovered that having a large collection of handcuffs wasn’t a good look, so I stopped for a while to become an actor, then a writer and TV producer.

“It was during that time that the production company made an escape artist TV special, which wasn’t very good,” Goodwin says. “I naively emailed the producer and told them what I thought, but instead of them telling me where to go, they told me to show them something better… so I did, they liked it, and before I knew it I was an escape artist and stunt performer, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

The Illusionists 1903 Jonathan Goodwin - Image by Dylan Evans - Festival Theatre - The Clothesline

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

Jonathan Goodwin is possibly best known for his TV series Dangerman: The Incredible Mr Goodwin which aired worldwide. As a performer he has been hanged, buried alive, locked in a box covered in 100,000 bees and hung by his toes from a helicopter.

“So basically, I try not to kill myself for a living,” he laughs. “And I like freaking people out!”

Like putting a live scorpion into your mouth, you mean? Why do you do that and do you de-sting it first?

“You can’t de-sting a scorpion,” Goodwin says. “I’ve done a version of that stunt several times before, but I have only been stung on the tongue once, which was live on UK TV. That was an intense experience because an hour later I literally had no sensation in my legs and couldn’t walk, I could barely swallow and I didn’t eat for about five days. It was about nine days after the sting that a peanut-sized piece of my tongue fell out and I had a hole all the way through it.”

And yet, you do it again!

“Yeah, it’s a gag,” he replies. “The answer as to why I do it is because I like to create what I lovingly call ‘O.F!’ moments. There’s that moment, after the lead-up, when the audience eventually realise that the scorpion is going in my mouth; the sound that a thousand people make when they have a simultaneous dawning realisation of something like that is extraordinary – and I’m kinda addicted to it! Like I said, I like freaking people out!”


Do you have a piece that you are most known for?

“I’ve done all sorts of things,” Goodwin says. “I’m a sucker for a good idea, but I’m not an adrenalin junkie who gets off on doing all these things, but I do like the idea of creating a spectacle and giving the audience the opportunity to see something that they haven’t before. That’s my motivation, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

“I’m not really known for anything in particular, as I tend not to repeat myself. But, recently in the UK, I did a Channel 4 TV Special that was live-to-air. It went a bit wrong and I was hanged live on television, but it was all OK. What kills a person in a judicial hanging is the rapid deceleration at the bottom that separates the sixth and seventh vertebrae, which means you usually die instantly.

“What I did was slightly different because I was lifted in the air while attached to a counter-weight that weighed slightly more than I did,” he explains. “So I was standing on the gallows with my hands cuffed to my waist and a noose around my neck – with 30 seconds to escape and get the noose off or the counterweight would drop and I would be lifted – by my neck. It’s still very dangerous but people have been known to survive fifteen minutes hanging like that – being strangled. But it went wrong, I didn’t get out of the cuffs and I was hanged up in the air with all of my weight on my neck for about eight seconds before I was cut down.”

Do you know much about the other performers? 

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

Image courtesy of Dylan Evans

“I’ve met most of them when we came together in LA to do the photo shoot and commercial,” Goodwin says. “What’s great about the show is that everybody has such a different skill set that there is nobody competing with anybody else at all; we really run the cross-section of performing styles so I’m very much looking forward to seeing everybody else’s stuff. I think it’s going to be an amazing show.

Click here to view The Illusionists 1903 commercial.

“Although I’ve read books on the history of magic, I’m not a magician, so to watch performers do what they do is going to be really interesting for me, but a the same time, I think that this show in particular there will be material that will be very unfamiliar to a lot of people, purely because they are recreating illusions that were popular over a hundred years ago that probably haven’t been performed in a very long time. So from that point of view, the adage that ‘everything that is old is new’, means that a modern audience is going to be blown away by a lot of this stuff because they just wouldn’t have seen anything like it.

“One of the many great things about this show is that there are so many styles of performances to showcase and there’s no another theatre show like it, including the two previous Illusionists incarnations. I’m, personally, so passionate about the time period we are creating that, if I wasn’t in it, I’d be there with bells on to see it,” Goodwin concludes. “The costumes are amazing, as are the sets, and the musical score is exquisite; the whole experience will remain in people’s heads for weeks after they have seen the show.”

The Illusionists 1903 performs at Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre at various times from Thu Jan 15 until Sun Jan 25.

Book at BASS on 131 246 and Click here to purchase your tickets.

Images courtesy of Dylan Evans

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