The Last Act of Harry Houdini is a fantastic show

Let's Go To, theatre review

Stare at that image of Harry Houdini long enough, and something creepy starts to happen. Might you be hypnotized? Maybe, he’s going to see something in you you don’t want him to see. What can eyes so intense, what can a face so stern, have to reflect back at you?

The Last Act of Harry Houdini, a masterful one-man show starring Barry Killerby and directed by Ishwar Maharaj, answers these questions and more through a unique examination of the life and final times of the Master Magician.

Like many magicians, Houdini was a man who lived between worlds. Framed by intense love and obsessive darkness, passionate crusades against spiritualists, trouble with his health and the profound affect of his mother’s death, he dressed his search for answers in defiant showmanship. There’s a poignant loneliness to all this which is evident throughout Killerby’s stage show, cleverly using a magician’s favorite tools — light and shadow — to reenact the events that impacted Houdini the most.

He deftly reveals (I won’t!) the secret use of a kiss with Houdini’s wife, and what really makes a seance a seance, in such memorable ways that I got chills imagining what it would be like had the show featured a full cast and stage. The show takes place on a sparse stage and props which anchor it as Houdini’s dressing room, yet also transport it backward and forward through time. Its door is not simply a way in or out of a room; it becomes an area of transcendence. Houdini faces his mortality there, along with the coldness of a society that only ever wanted The Show, and not the truth behind it.

Funny and distressing in turns, The Last Act of Harry Houdini was a real demonstration of talent and skillful storytelling. It was a pleasure to watch.

This year’s Thursday Halloween date afforded us a week-long sojourn into all things dark and wonderful. There’s still time to end our dances with the dead in a glorious way. Don’t miss The Last Act of Harry Houdini‘s final performance tonight at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone.

Let’s Go To: Christie’s London

Let's Go To

A pivotal scene in one of my latest writing projects takes place at an auction. It’s not just any auction, however, but a high-end jewelry and art auction. After learning many a bidding term and drooling over the big money auctions like the Liz Taylor one a few years ago, I managed to get to attend an exciting art auction at Christie’s here in London.

For a long time, I thought going to an auction at random on a Friday was not in my near future (unless I went on a Friday that took place in another dimension where I had a whole lot more money). In actuality, auctions are generally open to the public to see the items up for bid, and you can also sit in and watch the bidding.

Another misconception I had about auctions was that people who attended as bidders were supposed to show up in nice suits and dresses. Although you could dress up if you want to, most of the crowd at The Oliver Hoare Collection last week was dressed casual and comfy.

It was fascinating to watch the auctioneer run the auction from an elevated podium as people in the room, on the phone or online placed bids. Some items fetched very little, others fetched a lot — like this Illustration from a Fraser Album, estimated at £40,000 – £60,000 that sold for £87,500.

You’re probably familiar with at least one scene from a TV show or a movie that features an auction. Everyone in the crowd is assumed to be a bidder, and someone scratching their nose at an inopportune moment accidentally winds up being the new owner of something very expensive that they don’t want! In reality, it’s a much more relaxed experience. You register online or in person if you’re going to bid, and pick up your paddle on the day. You show up a bit early and look at the items in the catalog, or on display if they’re being displayed in-house. You also have the option to submit an absentee bid, and of course do everything online via the live stream of the auction.

If you’re there in person, by the time you enter the bidding room and make yourself comfortable, you’ll already have a desired item (also called “lot”) in mind. Or, you might be considering a few different things depending on your budget. When the auction begins, you bid on what you want to. You can raise your paddle or nod to the auctioneer. The staff manning the phone lines will also raise their hand or a printed number to the auctioneer to indicate their client’s bid.

There are a number of auction house staff in the room who support the auctioneer in noting the people interested in a lot. Obviously, some lots will be more popular than others and many paddles and hands and head-nods can happen at the same time! I was amazed by how quickly and elegantly the auctioneer worked with the bidding audience, kept track of bids, numbers, math, and still cracked a light joke here and there. I also really liked the tension in the room during bidding for popular lots. It was hard to know who the winner was going to be and how high people were willing to go.

Probably the most interesting thing I saw were the people bidding on behalf of someone else. A few minutes before his client’s desired lot came up, a man sitting in my row made a call and started having a casual conversation. I found this odd until I realized what was going on — between asking about how his client’s kids were, how their day was going, and what they were planning to have for lunch, this man was raising his hand to the auctioneer as the bids began to fly for a beautiful painting. Clearly, he’d already been informed at what amount to bid up to, and just kept going until someone else made a higher bid. He won a few lots and lost a few, but all I could think about was how interesting a job that must be for him. My Writer Mind was very curious — who was on the other end of that call?

And what did he end up having for lunch?

All in all, it was a great learning experience and a very cool way to see much of what I’d learned in action.

I am so very excited for next weekend, as Christie’s is partnering with DeBeers to put on the Rare Treasures of the Earth exhibition! Curated from private sales, museums, and the endless array of gems and diamonds at DeBeers, the exhibition will feature informative talks and many gorgeous displays. I can’t wait to tell you everything about what I’ve learned after the event.

Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest preview review

Music event

All good things should start with Depeche Mode, so I’ve taken tonight’s special event to launch this new blog, Then, Celeste Said…

Every big Depeche Mode fan (often called a “devotee”) remembers the moment they fell in love with their music and never looked back.

For me, it started when I was little. Our neighbor would sometimes babysit me, and she was a Depeche Mode fan. When I was 15, I ordered some CDs via mail order and one of them was Black Celebration. I’d never heard that record before – or so I thought. I’ll never forget my confused joy as I listened to “Stripped” and discovered that I not only knew the melody, but also had a tiny shard of a memory associated with it: me sitting in front of the speakers in our old apartment, staring at them as that beautiful sound came out. The LP cover was on the coffee table. Turns out I’ve been a devotee since I was five.

By the time I was 16 I owned pretty much all that I could get my hands on that had to do with Depeche Mode. I had devotee penpals who sent me tapes of stuff you could only get in Europe. I would stay up til 3 in the morning trying to take photos of stuff around the house in an “Anton Corbijn way” because I so loved the style of Strange, Too. So many friends, so many parties, so many concerts, so many music, visual and spoken word artists discovered through my love for Depeche Mode. I even met my husband through a mutual devotee friend. Who knew I’d go from growing up in Brooklyn to living in Scandinavia and now England “thanks to” Depeche Mode?

I tell you that story, to tell you this story: Tonight, 300-ish people got to see the preview of renowned director and photographer Anton Corbijn’s new documentary, Spirits in the Forest. It’s a beautiful tribute to the fans, and intersperses six fans’ stories with clips from Depeche Mode’s final two shows on their “Spirit Tour”.

We were among the first people in the world to see the film in terms of it being an audience mainly comprised of fans. There were also some amazing people in the room aside from Anton – Jonathan Kessler, Peter Gordeno, and two of the guys who were featured in the documentary were also there.

We’ve all been loosely sworn to secrecy in terms of not giving away spoilers, though it’s not because anything specifically “happens” in the film. It’s more that the amazing correlations between these fans’ major life changes and the Depeche’s music is a real delight to witness. It’s also a very moving film in that it’s easy to identify one’s own story to a particular song, sound or lyric.

Just as every devotee can remember the song that made them a fan, we can also remember the moment the music was really there for us in some profound way. That’s the power and beauty of art. There are some truly unique, painful, and just plain funny anecdotes shared by the fans featured in the film. You really won’t believe how deeply the music has touched their lives.

Anton Corbijn was his usual candid and funny self during the Q&A, hosted by Edith Bowman. He also talked about how the featured fans were chosen; it was something that began with the stories people shared as part of the Depeche Mode Facebook Takeover contest last year. The stories that were unique and came from a variety of cultures and age groups were considered, and then the special six were selected from there.  

Spirits in the Forest will be screened on one night only! Watch, sing, laugh and cry along at your nearest movie theatre on November 21, 2019.

Thank you very much to Anton, the band’s management, those six special fans and the Curzon Mayfair for such a memorable and inspiring evening.