J A Holland

HAVING occasion recently to give a short performance at the local Cricket Club Dance, I pondered upon ways of introducing a touch of topicallity into the act. My hands being to small for the multiplying cricket balls, the one effect which kept recurring to my mind was the production of a cricket bat as a finale. The following notes may be of value to conjurers faced with similar bookings.

My type of act is light, I carry all props in a top hat, the stage being furnished with simple dignity by a table and a chair. Furthermore for the show in question I was not using an assistant. These factors precluded the use of a steal from behind the table or from an assistant's back. I was thus left with having to body load the cricket bat. To make things worse, the bat production for obvious dramatic reasons had to be the last action of the performance—I planned to produce small silks from nowhere, large ones from the small ones, finally a 36" square silk from which, with appropriate band drum roll, I materialised the cricket bat. Luckily I could enter from the rear of the stage down three short steps, the stage in this case being the end of the dance floor, not raised above the floor level. The four piece band was to my left and slightly to my rear. The audience was seated around the walls of the dance floor, the nearest some five feet in front of me. Angles were therefore awkward. I took the precaution to see the layout a week before the act, and noticed that lighting was favourable in that it would not shine from behind the silk handkerchief.

The remainder of the act was to consist of cut rope, thimbles, and a torn and restored card effect, all necessitating body loading or pocket work.

This then was the set up : conditions not easy ; an exciting challenge. There were two problems involved. First a workable place of concealment that would not hinder ones action or render movement unnatural. Second, ease of access—a quick steal without the clothes becoming rumpled and misplaced was essential. The steal furthermore, must involve no unnatural movements. I found that for my height (6' 2") a size 4 boys bat was suitable, and looked full size when brandished by the end of its handle.

The first difficulty was solved as far as I believe possible by concealing the bat on the left front of the body with (and this is the important part) the handle pointing downwards. A double breasted jacket is essential for this, and the trousers require braces and some form of belt. Removing the coat the bat is inserted handle downwards and flat side against the body, down the front of the left leg. By experiment I found that it was easier to steal when the bat was between the trousers and the pants. An additional aid to stealing is to cover the rubber handle with cellophane. This is vital to success, otherwise the rubber acts as a very effective brake, and ruffles the trousers upon the bat being withdrawn.

With the bat so positioned the belt is adjusted to give light support to it, (trial and error gives the required tension here) and the coat replaced over the bat. The general feeling at this stage is one of being stark naked except for the cricket bat. It seems impossible that its outline cannot be seen beneath the clothes. As a matter of fact it can, but if the bat is now twisted slightly anticlockwise so that the handle end lies along the inner left thigh, and in addition the bat pushed down until the worst of the bulge caused by the business end of the bat is masked by the breast pocket, the presence of the bat is undetectible even at close quarters. Admittedly it still feels the size of Nelson's Column, but this is where acting ability helps. It is necessary to learn to move normally with the load. All rehearsals should be carried out with the bat in its hiding place and the performer should practice the stage turns and business thus loaded. Where (as in my case) one enters down stairs, these must present no problem. One must also be prepared for the accidental dropping of props, and being able to pick them off the floor gracefully. I found for this purpose that to bend the right knee whilst the left leg remained straight but swept backwards enabled dropped articles to be retrieved gracefully and quickly.

As mentioned in the introduction, I performed this on the level floor without footlights. If any reader is contemplating the production on a raised stage with footlignts he would be well advised to rehearse on site beforehand. The additional upward light might show the handle of the bat as a slight bump, especially when walking across the stage, and a little imagination will make one realise that this is highly undesirable.

The second difficulty, that of the steal, was very much easier than the actual concealment. Let us suppose we have reached the moment when the 36" silk, or better still two silks fastened at the top, has been produced. The silk is held in front of the chest the left hand end being between thumb and forefinger of the left hand. The hold on the right hand end is important and is as follows : the silk is gripped between the ball of the thumb and the lowest joint of the back of the forefinger. The hand is given a half turn towards the body. Thus the silk is curved round the back of the hand and the second and third fingers are left free for the dirty work.

Having displayed the silk in this way the left hand swings outwards towards the right whilst the right hand moves across the body towards the left apparently to display the different pattern on the reverse side of the double silk. Thus the right hand has ample cover to enter the jacket and to grasp firmly the bat between the second and third fingers, some support being provided by the other fingers. Stay motionless for a second then let the left hand swing back and when it is half way across the body (and not before) raise both hands outwards, apparently merely lift the silk for further display and an applause cue. This action masks the slow but firm withdrawal of the bat diagonally upwards towards the right and it is concealed behind the silk, held entirely by the fingers of the right hand round its base whilst the handle end is behind the lower left hand corner of the silk. This is the cue for a drum roll from the band who should be so placed as to see this manoeuvre.

Finally in one movement the left hand drops to the lower left hand corner of the silk, grasping both silk and handle and the silk thus pulled across a diagonal forms a triangle. The bat is still concealed by the silk. The hands now move away from the body and the bat swept from the silk upwards to the left, held by the end of the handle in the left hand, whilst the right hand carries the silk upwards to the right.

It is a good plan to condition the audience to this upwards and outwards movement of the hands in previous conclusions of tricks. There is then nothing suspicious in the action when required, providing it is done smoothly. The bat must not be snatched.

I have described this effect at some length in the hope that I will have eradicated some of the stumbling blocks that could otherwise hamper initial attempts. The secret is confidence in the concealment and the ability to be undeterred by the presence of the load during previous tricks. The appearance of a solid bat from nowhere and clear of all tables and other helps is a big climax and I found that few people seriously considered the possibility of my having carried it around on my person when discussing it afterwards. As regards the effectiveness of the steal, even the band said they failed to see where the bat came from.


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