Bullet Catch

Rob Drummond
Rob Drummond

At the Revue Stage until February 7, 2015

Posted January 23, 2015

I am the perfect target for Rob Drummond’s magic show, Bullet Catch. Skeptical but willing to be amazed and even when an illusion is revealed – as Drummond does with one of his tricks (but only after asking if we want to know how it was done), I’m still amazed.

Drummond plays on our impressionability in the subtlest ways: no cape, no “Ladies and Gentlemen” hyperbole, no rabbits popping out of hats. In a plain woolen vest and with a disarmingly low-key approach, this charming Glaswegian plays it down. And he’s just so nice. How many illusionists have you wanted to hug at the end of the show?

Oh, but there is hype and you can see it coming. Bullet Catch is a famous illusionist’s trick going back to 16th century France when a magician caught a bullet in his hand but was clubbed to death in 1613 with his own gun by his angry assistant.

Drummond, through letters and references to a badly botched Bullet Catch during which the performer was fatally shot by his assistant, makes sure we realize how dangerous the trick is. Tales of actual fatalities abound and are generally due to defective firearms. Progressing through various less dangerous illusions, Drummond builds to the climax: the moment when an audience volunteer who has been with him on stage since moments after the start of the show, dons eye and ear protection and squeezes the trigger. Bam.

Rob Drummond Credit: Megan Verhey
Rob Drummond
Credit: Megan Verhey

Our volunteer, Jojo, was so enthusiastic and willing. Do I think she really was a volunteer and not a set-up?  I do. Either that or Jojo deserves an Oscar for her performance. Eventually, however, Jojo became quite fearful; she had, she said, shot a deer before but never a man. She could, as Drummond pointed out many times, back out; apparently, some volunteers, completely overwhelmed by what Drummond has asked them to do, have walked away. But our plucky Jojo hung in there.

You just know that gun isn’t loaded with real bullets. And you just know that Drummond, whom you’ve come to like, isn’t going to die tonight on stage. Tickets have been sold for the remainder of the run; think of all those cancelled tickets. It’s Arts Club Artistic Managing Director Bill Millerd’s nightmare. Not gonna happen.

So what’s going for this show if not the scary possibility you might see someone actually die on stage? Performance. Fun. Curiosity. And a conversation about free will. Drummond doesn’t believe in it; Jojo thought maybe sometimes she did.

His argument – and it may be Philosophy 100 – is that everything we do, we do because of events that preceded the present, extending all the way back to our own birth – over which we exercised no free will. Hence: there can be no free will. That he’s onstage and about to be shot by a complete stranger is, Drummond would argue, not an act of free will. It might be crazy but he can’t really be blamed for it. And even if there’s no free will, what we do have, he says, is human connection; he really connects.

“Arguably one of the most dangerous and daring illusions that a magician can attempt”, says Wikipedia; legend says at least a dozen men have died attempting it. But if you like magic, relish the thought of spending seventy-five minutes in the company of a truly engaging fellow with the sweetest brogue this side of Glasgow and are curious about the Bullet Catch, exercise your free will and check out this show, presented as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

Rob Drummond on Stage Designer Francis Gallop's set Credit: Megan Verhey
Rob Drummond on Stage Designer Francis Gallop’s set
Credit: Megan Verhey