Outside, the stifling Dubai heat has pushed the thermometer over 40 degrees. But inside an arena, seven of the world’s best magicians are as cool as cucumbers.

They may be about to pull off seemingly impossible tricks and acts of daring, but they are masters in their field – the Avengers of magic, as their producer calls them.

So all is calm, until an hour before their show, The Illusionists, is due to start.

That’s when a phone call informs them that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the constitutional monarch of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, will be dropping by to watch.

Cue some hurried rearrangements and changes in the script.

Executive producer Simon Painter confided afterwards: “We weren’t allowed to look at him or film him, and we had to take out any suggestive material.

“Apparently he loved it, though.”

Camp magician Jeff Hobson, aka The Trickster, is normally full of innuendo – and although he tones it down, he still twirls around the stage to Dancing Queen. Brave, considering homosexuality is illegal in Dubai and sexual relations outside of traditional marriage is a crime punishable by death.

At least they won’t have to worry about anything like this when they play Wolverhampton Civil Hall.

Sheikh Mohammed finally arrives, half an hour after the show was due to start, but of course everything is waiting for him. Dressed in gold, he’s accompanied by a 20-strong entourage of white-robed men.

They take up the first two rows of the theatre, forming what Simon refers to as an intimidating “wall of Sheikh”.

British-born Simon came up with the concept of marrying the world’s greatest illusionists with a rock band in a fast-paced show for all the family. He first put on the show two years ago for a fortnight at the Sydney Opera House, where 30,000 tickets sold out in a week.

It went on to play Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand, Brazil and Venezuela, and is heading for Broadway next year.

But first comes a whistle-stop three-week UK tour, taking in Wolverhampton Civic Hall on October 8.

“Magic is like heroin, you can never spend enough money,” sighs Simon.

“Everything is very expensive. It cost £100,000 to magic up a steam train on to the stage, with literally all its bells and whistles. And to make that work, you need to rehearse with the stage and all the crew and cast, which costs tens of thousands a day. We have to sell a lot of tickets!

“And things do go wrong. There’s a trick where we make the band disappear and they reappear at the back of the hall. There have been plenty of times when they just haven’t vanished!

“On opening night at the Sydney Opera House, we had to break the water tank to drag Andrew out. I thought he was doing a rather dramatic performance, but it turned out he was drowning.”

Italian escapologist Andrew Basso is the first person to pull off Houdini’s famous water torture cell act without a cover, so we can see how he does it.

He is hanging upside down by his chained feet in a tank, with his hands cuffed, and holds his breath for three minutes while he frees himself.

As well as moments of high drama and wonderment – you’ll see it snow inside the theatre – the show is also very funny, thanks mainly to Jeff Hobson and his banter with the audience.

Mark Kalin and his wife, Jinger Leigh as The Gentleman and The Enchantress
Mark Kalin and his wife, Jinger Leigh as The Gentleman and The Enchantress

“I’ve had 75,000 people up on stage with me over the years, and I’ve come to expect anything,” he smiles.

“I’ve had little girls get scared, scream and run away. A woman vomited on me and a guy took a swing at me. It keeps me entertained when we get to go off-track. UK audiences are the best, you really get my camp humour.

“I’ve had more trouble here in Dubai. Last night I pulled a woman’s ponytail but learned afterwards that you’re not supposed to touch women here.”

Part of Jeff’s act involves stealing watches without his victims knowing, which could perhaps be a handy skill.

“I know how to steal just about anything. The first time I went to Las Vegas, I thought I was so clever, I had $3,000 in my pocket but within five minutes that was all gone.

“I was stunned. I started looking at people and thought ‘I could take his wallet or that watch’. A flush of embarrassment came over me, I was so ashamed that for a moment, I was thinking like a thief.

“Instead, I learned how to play cards, won all my money back and then I quit gambling.”

Mark Kalin performs in an act with his wife, Jinger Leigh. Together they are The Gentleman and The Enchantress.

They are in the record books for pulling off the largest live stage illusion ever, vanishing an American Airlines jumbo jet every night.

The couple met when performing in a show and now have a 12-year-old daughter, Parker.

“I was the magician and she was the lead dancer,” remembers Mark, aged 53. “I thought she was gorgeous but I didn’t speak to her for six months.

“Then on the last day they let the dancers watch the show for the first time. Afterwards she came to me and said ‘That was amazing, if you ever need someone to fill in, I’d love to try out’.

“Not long afterwards, the person I was working with needed time off. Jinger came out to the US island of Guam and we both instantly felt the chemistry on stage, which was soon happening off-stage too. The other girl never came back.”

Mark has been performing the same sleight of hand trick with billiard balls that he first learned when he was nine.

“It’s a bit slicker now, if perhaps less charming!” he smiles. “I still don’t feel I’ve completely mastered it.

“Magic is hard but the trick is to make it look easy. We spend all these years perfecting skills, only to hide them.

“The challenge for Jinger and I is to take classic tricks like sawing a woman in half and show it in a 21st century way.”

Jinger also has another challenge – to be taken seriously as an illusionist in her own right, rather than just her husband’s assistant.

“People still have a struggle with a female on stage,” says the lithe 44-year-old. “Penn and Teller, Siegfried and Roy – there’s no question they are a double act, but with a man and a woman, she has to be the sidekick.

“It is a bit annoying. People don’t give me the credit for all the magic I do.

“There were no real role models for women in magic when I started out but I hope I’ve helped to pave the way for others.”

Mark has known Kevin James, aka The Inventor, ever since they were in a California magic club together as teenagers.

Kevin is known for creating several unique effects, including the Floating Rose performed by David Copperfield.

Although an established magician, in 2007 Kevin decided to risk the sarcasm of judges Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne by appearing on America’s Got Talent. He wowed them with his trick called The Operation, where he appears to cut a man in two with a chainsaw.

“It was stressful, I got ulcers over it, but there’s nowhere else on the planet that I could get that exposure,” he says of the TV show.

“I was seen by 30 million viewers in America and my act got 40 million hits on YouTube. I’m still getting work because of it.”

 

Dan Sperry, aka The Anti-Conjuror, has a style of magic known as Shock Illusion. Dressed all in black, he performs to heavy metal. One of his tricks involves swallowing a piece of thread and then pulling it out of his eye, and threading wire through his throat.

“I don’t think they really get me here,” he says of the conservative Dubai audience. “But the majority of my fans are British, so I’m really looking forward to playing in front of them.

“I would never want to gross people out just for the sake of it. I’m not a side show. It’s more about wonder and amazement. Shocking people is just a bonus.”

Dan, 27, has 12 piercings and is covered in tattoos, including a zip around his wrist.

“That’s where I tried to cut my hand off when I was seven,” he reveals. “I wanted to be a pirate and have a hook for a hand, so I took some scissors to my wrist. The tattoo is a reminder.”

The final member of The Illusionists is the only Briton, mind-bending Philip Escoffey, aka The Mentalist.

He is to introduce a new trick into the show in which he turns the audience into the biggest lottery machine in the world, giving six people the chance to win cash.

He is good friends with fellow mentalist Derren Brown and they are both scathing of people who claim to be psychic.

“When I performed my act Six Impossible Things Before Dinner in Edinburgh, people would have fierce debates with me, trying to convince me that I must be psychic,” says Philip. “Really, I’m not. It’s all nonsense. I’m telling people not to believe in the horses**t that my ‘psychic’ colleagues peddle.”