“Jermay is the most incredible man you’ve probably never heard of. He can read your mind,” claims the website of magician Luke Jermay. “No really; he can read your mind.”
I’m definitely a sceptic when it comes to magic – not to suggest that I don’t love it. I’ve always appreciated the skill and showmanship that goes into making a magic show work, even if I wasn’t about to believe that what was happening was anything legitimately paranormal. That is why I have a lot of respect for illusionists like Derren Brown who admit outright that what they’re doing is nothing more than a trick. When someone starts claiming they genuinely possess supernatural abilities, the cynic in me comes swimmingly to the surface; but I made a conscious effort to go into Luke Jermay’s performance at The Old Market with as much of an open a mind as possible.
Was Jermay a mind-reader? Definitely not. Did he pull off a good magic trick nonetheless? Honestly, not really.
Unfortunately for Jermay, his support act and collaborator Chris Rawlins made the mistake of singling out the journalist in the bar beforehand. I was asked to write my answers to a number of personal questions in a notepad, tear out the page and pocket it, without showing it to anyone. My initial thought was that there was no way anybody could know what was written on the piece of paper. But with time to mull it over, my mind wandered to secret touchscreen devices, carbon copies and imprints of ink on the cover of the pad. It would still have been fairly impressive of course, had this trick accounted for a minor portion of the show. Unfortunately, almost the entire performance was made of Jermay “mind-reading” things that people had written down in the bar beforehand, as I was able to confirm by chatting to people during the interval.
What was so annoying about this was the sheer disingenuousness with which these events unfolded. Jermay made no mention of our having written anything down before the show, and made sure none of the participants had any more than a few seconds to have their voice heard, so that we were operating entirely along a narrow, predetermined script. For the majority of the audience therefore, it seemed as though Jermay really was picking our answers out of thin air.
A departure from this rather dull pattern occurred when Jermay asked an audience member to read the first passage from any page of a random book on the stage to himself, and imagine in his head the sound that passage would make. Jermay then orchestrated the audience through a series of claps, clicks and stomps which together generated the very sound his participant was imagining: rain. I was struck by the originality and creativity that went into the reveal and had to admit that for an unsuspecting audience member it must have been rather an exciting element of the show. Sat beside the man onstage however, I was able to peek over his shoulder and notice that every page of the book began with a paragraph describing rain.
The highlight of the night was the pre-show support act Chris Rawlins, who demonstrated his ability to memorise the whereabouts of an entire deck of cards distributed between two audience members. There was nothing especially magical about it, just a genuinely impressive feat that he delivered with style, good humour and charisma.
By contrast, Jermay was about the last thing I expected from the muted photoshoot of him with rugged stubble and sleeve tattoos widely distributed online. He bumbled on stage in a burgundy waistcoat with the chain of a pocket watch showing, and spoke in a foreboding, melodramatic tone his squeaky voice couldn’t quite pull off. He was a confident and at times funny performer, but his audience interactions all too often felt awkward. His tendency to rely on misogynistic assumptions for his “mind-reading” – “I can tell you’re the sort of woman to have it your way or no way”, “you’re a very emotional woman, the sort who could have a breakdown at any moment” – was weak and insulting.
Jermay also fancied himself a fortune-teller and made it his job to instruct audience members on how they should feel about and respond to the biggest concerns in their life. Participation in this was to be fair voluntary, but being fully aware by this point that Jermay’s abilities were a trick, it just left me with an impression of him as arrogant and manipulative.
Being on the inside of the trick has definitely left me with a negative bias of the show, and I don’t doubt there were plenty of unsuspecting audience members left astounded by Jermay’s perceived abilities. Was the evening still entertaining in its own way? Certainly. Will I be rushing back to see Jermay again? Regrettably not.