Barry & Stuart
Rejecting magic’s clichés, Barry & Stuart courted controversy with their biblical illusions. They reassure Brian Donaldson that Mohammad is not in their sights
Some magicians spend their lives trying to convince us that they can walk on water. Metaphorically speaking. With London-based, Aberdeenshire-raised double act Barry Jones and Stuart MacLeod, there’s one thing you should know: they actually can walk on water. Or at least they gave that impression in the name of showbusiness as part of their 2005 Channel 4 Christmas special, Magic of Jesus, during which they helped make a virgin pregnant, fed 5000 football fans with scraps and temporarily cured a woman’s blindness.
‘The most satisfying trick we’ve ever done was when we walked on water,’ insists Barry Jones (the taller, slender one). ‘Everyone who had done it up till then had stood on water or had water that was really cloudy so you couldn’t see under it. Our challenge was that we would walk on the water and you could see underneath it.’ Predictably, tediously, the church, in the shape of Bishop Michael Reid from TV watchdog the Christian Congress for Traditional Values, was outraged. So outraged that he released a statement which wailed: ‘Maybe these fraudsters could try being crucified to see if they can rise three days later.’
‘Very Christian words,’ bemoans Stuart MacLeod (the smaller, less slender one). ‘We use that quote in the live show. Without giving anything away, we don’t crucify ourselves onstage, but we do deal with that.’ Having also later performed Tricks from the Bible where they turned sticks into snakes, removed the strength from a body builder and unleashed the plagues on two fans (‘we haven’t heard from them since’ says Jones), what could be next: Tricks from the Koran? ‘I certainly think it would be unwise for any magician to even make the assertion that the Prophet Mohammad could have been a trickster,’ states MacLeod, rather sensibly.
The pair first started doing magic tricks as kids, growing up on a TV diet of David Copperfield’s wildly ambitious theatrics and Paul Daniels’ cheeky charm, finally meeting at a magicians society where they were the only ones not of an elderly persuasion. By virtue of being the sole teenage tricksters in the area, they became friendly rivals but eventually realised they shared the same views on magic (it needed a kick up the sleeve) and so joined forces. ‘It wasn’t our initial goal to create a new magic, but we both felt that it was quite an old-fashioned art,’ recalls Jones. ‘We were interested in narrative and making short films; we just wanted to entertain ourselves.’
MacLeod recalls further: ‘There’s quite a few magicians who have done things under the heading of punk magic, if you like, those who were anti-establishment within the magic world: John Lenahan, Jerry Sadowitz, Paul Zenon, those comic magicians. But that never really appealed to us, we were more interested in darker themes and creating a subversive or uncomfortable feeling.’ And while the pair have a natural comedic way about them, they promise that things will get a bit sinister for their date in Glasgow which marks Barry & Stuart’s debut public performance in Scotland. ‘There’ll be splashes of blood here and there,’ says Jones. ‘Even more if the tricks go wrong.’ There seems little chance of that.
Universal, Glasgow, Sun 9 Mar.