There are a dearth of magic shows out there that pander to a variety of styles. For mental manipulation you have your Derren Brown. Sleight of hand and every day street objects falls to Dynamo. Many others do big stunts. In order to stand out you need a gimmick. So how will UK magician Drummond Money-Coutts (who goes under the stage name, DMC) stand out? By doing tricks and stunts that have…*checks notes*…historically killed other performers. Gulp!
Death By Magic combines a documentary style exploration of the fatal trick in question whilst filling in the gaps with plenty of street magic from DMC. It all builds up to his ‘take’ on the killer stunt in front of a wailing and shocked audience for the big finale. This combination means that over each episode’s 35 minute run time there is plenty of variety. You don’t suffer from over-repetitiveness with the hand to hand magic. Nor do you fall victim to over-hype leading in to the big dangerous pay off.
Obviously with a format that requires such a personal sell as magic, the screen presence of Money-Coutts is key. At first he comes across as somewhat monotone. But as the episodes progress his calm charisma is hypnotically compelling. The man himself comes from a very rich background. Yes, he is part of the Coutts banking family. But he fully acknowledges this and spends a little time in Episode 6 (India: The Rope Trick) talking about his breaking away from the family business to pursue his passion.
He holds the attention of his audience utterly with his slow and deliberate delivery, with occasional off the cuff humour riffs. He isn’t a showy performer on street level, relying instead on just captivating eyes and minds with his set up. Come the finales, his presence amps up to a more showman level, again holding the attention of his audience totally.
Over the course of 8 episodes of Death By Magic his filler tricks vary in quality. As is always the case, you can’t help yourself trying to work out how things are done. Whilst the details may elude you, when props are involved the magic is less impressive as you know there will be something hidden about them. But sleight of hand switches; supposed mind reading reveals; and borrowed item swap-overs are all impressive. The man even somehow makes a live cockroach appear in his mouth to freak out residents of Los Angeles!
Death By Magic manages to globe trot which gives nice background and historical contexts to the magic being performed. Sometimes the actual death is only tenuously linked to the stunt. Such as an episode set in Edinburgh where The Great Lafayette died in a fire on stage even though the fire was nothing to do with his trick. But regardless the history of Scottish witch burning is built in to the narrative so that the final stunt is a combination of all that has come before it.
Other episodes drop in some subtle foreshadowing. A Russian Roulette based episode has DMC whittle down members of the public in order to best predict the likely shooting patterns of the last pick. So when he is apparently shot regardless, the dramatic twist is all the more impressive.
Even though the end stunts are very spectacular, once you get the hang of the fact that every episode is going to have it go apparently wrong, only for ‘the prestige’ reveal to show all is fine, then the suspense disappears. Instead you want to see how the near death escape quirk is going to go which for the most part is equally ‘wow’.
The majority are escapology focused. Without giving anything away, we get such impending doom as: a train thundering down the line toward DMC locked in a box; a car filling with water with barred up windows; a lit fuse smouldering toward him unstoppably; and a coffin filing up with tonnes of cement. You may have your own suspicions about the trick but the presentation still makes for tense stuff.
Death By Magic has a great concept. And Money-Coutts delivers it with cool but welcoming charm. With such a wealth of tricks and illusions being performed some will inevitably land better than others, but at 8 half an hour episodes this show is definitely worth your time.
Words by Michael Record