Keith Barry: “Ultimately, I Have No-One to Answer To”

Plying a craft somewhere between mentalism, hypnosis and magic, Keith Barry has entranced live and television audiences the world over, and worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats to the Waterford man ahead of his dates at the Everyman in March.

It’s been a long road for Keith Barry, from getting his first book on magic tricks as a fourteen-year-old in his hometown of Waterford, to leading the field across multiple media on hypnotism, magic, and mentalism. In the process, he’s refined his art for audiences around the world, and as he quickly cuts across the South Mall to meet up at the Imperial Hotel for a chat, he’s clearly in the press-day headspace ahead of his next Irish tour in the New Year, effusively chatting about upcoming engagements and projects.

While any craftsman worth his salt would never reveal his secrets, it’s a point of interest to discuss how magic, an art dependent on the presence of a live audience is transmuted to the camera, and its needs. Barry holds up his first television series for RTÉ, Close Encounters, as an example of not only the production nuance, but the graft that goes into magic as a television format. “The medium has changed over the years. When I started my TV projects, it was back in 2003, so you’re talking about fifteen years ago now. And there was really only David Copperfield, David Blaine and Derren Brown. I was doing street magic here. My whole ethos was, as few cuts as possible from the camera, all the magic is shot ‘as live’, no stooges, no camera tricks. I’ve stayed with that my whole career. The medium has changed, it’s now Instagram, Twitter, everyone’s looking for this hit, this instant dopamine thing, and there are a number of magicians that are paying actors to freak out, knock cups over and do tricks that wouldn’t work in the real world at all. So, it’s difficult. You have to have a live audience, the reactions have to be real, and my (upcoming special) for RTÉ, ‘Keith Barry’s Magical New Year’s Eve Party’, it’s a live studio audience, and you can’t pull the wool over their eyes unless you openly deceive them.”

While conquering the small screen is no mean feat, it’s much different again to take your craft to the silver screen and maintain the authenticity of the live experience. Barry worked as a consultant for the ‘Now You See Me’ series of films, both of which to date were huge box-office successes. The challenges of showing complete novices your craft, and doing so in the timeframe of a major Hollywood production, is a feat of magic in itself. “There’s two things to this: they’re big Hollywood stars, so you have to treat them with a certain level of respect, but also, you have to be mindful of their time. But for me, when I’m involved in a magic movie, there’s no secrets. You have to teach them as much as you can in as short a space of time is possible, and ultimately trust them. These are professionals, they’re not going to be out revealing your secrets. They learn their roles, and learn them well. Dave Franco, I taught him sleight of hand, with Woody Harrelson, I taught him how to be a hypnotist and mentalist. They can do all this stuff in real life now. I had a great time, and now I’m good friends with some of them.”

Barry has also overseen the return of hypnosis as a primetime television format around the world with ‘You’re Back in the Room’, a UK version of which aired on ITV a number of years ago, and has subsequently travelled well to other markets. What are the pros and cons of a show that has to function for a live audience, as well as fit into a gameshow? “It was massively difficult. It was a new format. These people do want to pop out of hypnosis and just grab the cash, so it was difficult for me to make work, while also having an entertaining gameshow. The most important aspect for me was to be able to stand behind the hypnosis, to say to you that they were really hypnotised. The end product was a hit, we did some in Australia, and we’ve filmed another ten episodes in the U.S., for Fox, so it’s travelled very well.”

More so than media, writing or any kind of consultancy, Barry’s bread and butter is the support of his home audience, and he has an Irish tour kicking off in the new year, that includes three nights in March at MacCurtain Street’s Everyman Palace. It’s a favourite room of the magician’s, and he’s looking toward weaving his deceptions on a Leeside audience. “My favourite part of what I do is being on stage. I believe that’s where I’m strongest, and that’s where I’m at my most content. Ultimately, I have no-one to answer to. I write the show, I direct the show, and I’m onstage, being the real me. I’ve had a great following for the last fifteen, twenty years, on the road. People understand that I change the show up every year, and this year, it’s called ‘Deception’. It’s about how the world is more deceptive than we’ve ever been in, not just with ‘fake news’, but with our own minds these days. I’ve been coming here for years, the Everyman is an amazing theatre. I always go across the road to Isaac’s for my dinner, brilliant restaurant, and the crowds here have always been fantastic. I love coming down here.”

Keith Barry presents ‘Deception’, playing at the Everyman Palace Theatre from March 14th to 16th. Tickets €30, on sale at the Everyman and through ticketmaster.ie.