No escape from this illusion

Escapologist Andrew Basso first saw a magician when he was seven years old, in his home town of Trento, northern Italy.

"You have to know my mother had Morticia Addams's look – you know, very serious," he says in a thick accent.

The Illusionists play at QPAC until January 27.
The Illusionists play at QPAC until January 27. 

"And this magician did a small trick to my mother and her face changed completely.

"I thought, 'That is real magic, to make my mother smile like that, and if he can change people's lives I want to do that, too.' "

The Illusionists play at QPAC until January 27.
The Illusionists play at QPAC until January 27. 

Basso, now a magician at 27, is one of seven performers showing off their awe-inspiring skills in The Illusionists, opening tonight at the QPAC Concert Hall.

But he admits his feature act – a recreation of Harry Houdini's infamous water tank escape – leans more towards making spectators anxious than making them smile.

"When I am in the tank, it is like they are in there with me," he says.

Basso puts himself through rigorous physical training to hold his breath for the two minutes or so he needs to break out of handcuffs and a 1000 litre water cell.

"It's athletic and psychological," he says.

Indeed, The Illusionists has no place for wands, rabbits in hats, or abracadabra. It's a high-octane two hours of visual shocks and delights.

"We've taken new acts and old acts, mixed them together and presented the tricks in a new way," says producer Simon Painter, who's spent the past five days fine-tuning the show's set-up in the Concert Hall.

He praises the seven Illusionists as giving the audience a fully rounded experience of the craft.

"They all do very different things. They're the masters of their own particular areas of magic," he said.

"Their acts are amazing but it's more about getting to know these incredible people who do these amazing things."

Painter says magic has always been about personality, and predicts a resurgence, even a new golden age.

"It's been 100 years since the last one, so I think it's about time, and certainly it seems so from the reaction of the crowd," he says.

"It's a very light-hearted and funny show, too. It doesn't take itself too seriously."

Another one of the Illusionists is Kevin James, hailed as "The Inventor". His trick, called The Operation, is attracting attention on YouTube.

"You can never predict that. You just have to have a good trick and a lot of luck, I think," he says.

After sell-out seasons in Asia and South America – with London and Los Vegas on the horizon – Painter knows some of his stars' secrets but says that doesn't make him enjoy their acts less.

"It's not about knowing if it's a trick or not; it's about knowing that in the right situation you can be convinced that something is real," he says.

"It's a very nice feeling when you can suspend your disbelief just for a moment, to believe that something magical can happen."

The Illusionists plays at the Concert Hall until January 27. Tickets are available from the QPAC website.