“Magic bars exist all over Japan – in every major city. And they exist because the Japanese really adore magic,” Kirsten Siddle tells Broadsheet. “It’s one of the art forms that they’ve really taken and made their own and become the world’s best at.”
The country has been enthralled since at least the 17th century, when it began to develop a traditional magic style called tezuma. In more recent decades, Japanese magicians have assimilated sleight-of-hand and other Western techniques into their repertoires.
Siddle, through her company Broad Encounters (A Midnight Visit), has packaged the nation’s centuries-long infatuation into an immersive theatre experience named Maho Magic Bar. It’s in town for six weeks from September 15 after already visiting Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin.
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“It’s inspired by that love of magic, but it’s also an homage, a love letter to Japan in totality, and to the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional cultural aspects that exist in Japan,” Siddle says.
The freestanding structure has been erected at Daniel’s Car Park in Chinatown. Modelled on contemporary magic bars in places like Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, it’s a riot of neon signage, shoji screens and coloured spotlights.
The hour-long show brings together five magicians who perform in and around the bar’s individual tables, involving patrons with tricks. On the roster are Shirayuri, the pin-up boy pioneer whose tricks come with a debonair storytelling twist; Rika, a master prop manipulator who incorporates traditional Japanese fans and umbrellas, and enigmatic hypnotist Ryota. Kaori Kitazawa, the lone female magician on the team, grew up around magic and now brings her 10 years of experience (and kawaii charm) to the male-dominated industry.
Bartender Jun Nakamura has assembled a list of fine Japanese drinks to suit the theme, including sake from three different regions, shochu and rare spirits such as umeshu, a refreshing liqueur made from an infusion of sweet plums and green tea. Like his magical colleagues, Nakamura brings plenty of flair to his work, juggling cocktail shakers, catching liquids and setting things alight.
“It’s my idea of a perfect night out,” Siddle says. “You can enjoy some great cocktails, relax and chat to your friends, chat to your neighbours and chat to the magicians.”