Magic return of Norwich illusionist Sean Alexander

BEN WOODS meets Norwich-born illusionist Sean Alexander who is baffling, thrilling and delighting crowds at one of the region's most popular attractions.

In a white robe and with a towel slung over his shoulders, Sean Alexander appears surprisingly relaxed for someone who has just cheated death.

Moments earlier he had thrown himself into a race against time — fighting against suffocation as he struggled to break free of a padlocked crate brimming with water.

This elaborate stunt — in which he emerged unharmed if not a little wet — is all in a day's work for a man who specialises in the 'wow' moments that leave audiences baffled.

At present, the grand illusionist has ditched his overseas stomping grounds in Dubai and Finland to bring his series of large-scale tricks to the Castle Theatre at Pleasurewood Hills, near Lowestoft.

But this is more than just a homecoming tour for the Norwich-born performer. As he dries his hair with the towel, and tilts his head to shed the water from his ears, he admits that it has always been his dream to bring a Las Vegas-style magic event to the audiences of East Anglia.

'I have been searching for a venue to give the illusions a home and, having travelled the world for many years, it's a delight to be able to bring my show here where I grew up,' he said.

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'I wanted to bring a Vegas-style show here. We've got a Premiership class football team, so why not have some of the finest illusions from around the world performed here in East Anglia?

'The great thing about stage illusions is that they are so visual. There is very little language.

'The water tank illusion has a real element of danger. To go without air people really need to be on their toes to make sure nothing goes wrong.'

Witnessing Sean in action, it is easy to see why he is keen to shed the label of magician for the more esteemed title of grand illusionist.

This is, after all, a world away from the rabbits in hats and disappearing balls that we have come to know from our childhoods. Sean contorts his body beyond comprehension, levitates his beautiful assistant more than 15ft in the air, and performs his own take on Houdini's water tank escape illusion as part of a grand finale.

But while he is comfortable with appearing and disappearing on stage, he says he is happy to plant his roots firmly in East Anglia, before he decides take to his show back across the globe again.

'It is great working locally again because I am bumping into people I haven't seen and heard of for years,' he said. 'People from my school days are now getting the chance to see the show.'

Sean was just eight years old when he made his first foray into magic. It came in the shape of a small magician's kit, which he gleefully used to entertain his family.

But it was not until he was 18 that he came to the conclusion that he was born to entertain.

He entered the trade as a Butlins Redcoat where he was inspired by his manager's talent and enthusiasm for performing illusions.

Since then, he has met his wife, and long-term magician's assistant, Vanessa Thorpe. The couple, who live in Costessey, began by performing shows in the West County, before scooping bookings at bigger venues both nationally and internationally.

Their reputations were given a firm boost when they reached the third round of Britain's Got Talent where Piers Morgan branded the performance as 'one of the best magic acts we've seen'.

Today, Vanessa has taken a step back from getting sawn in half by her husband, as the couple are now expecting their first child. Instead, she takes a directional role and provides a guiding hand to Sean's young group of female assistants — the Angels of Magic — who perform in his Lowestoft shows. The girls, recruited from local dance schools, include Jasmine Heller and Kirsten Hood of Caister, Rebecca Wright of Lowestoft, and Coral Blowers from Carlton Colville.

For Sean, these performers are crucial for making sure each illusion occurs without a hitch — and he is not afraid to direct praise their way.

'The team have done phenomenally well,' he said. 'The girls are all trained dancers, and when it comes to performing illusions they are all very competent and keen to learn.'

If Sean could have it his way, the girls could even be travelling further afield than their native East Anglia.

The performer is convinced that people would flock to see a show comprised of grand illusions if he was take to it on tour across the country.

'I believe there is a real market for this kind of act. There is no other grand illusionist doing this type of thing.

'I want to take this grand illusion show to theatres across the country – and continue to tweak it and develop it further.'

t Sean Alexander: The Confusionist runs at the Castle Theatre, Pleasurewood Hills, until November 4,