In a world dominated by digital gimmickry, social media and high-speed internet, Raymond Crowe is finding magic in some of the world’s most primitive forms of illusion.
That’s why Australia’s only “unusualist” believes his shadow puppetry, mime and ventriloquism are a hit.
“The type of stuff I do is harking back to another era in some ways,” Crowe tells AAP in Sydney, where he’ll perform his latest round of shows at the Opera House in May.
He’s been a Grand Finalist on Australia’s Got Talent 2013, performed for the Queen and just finished touring with high-profile six-piece magic group The Illusionists 2.0.
Crowe’s specialty is in eliciting laughs, gasps and cheers from children and adults alike – including a 92-year-old who saw him in the NSW town of Orange recently.
He can pull a rabbit out of a hat, but the magic materialises in shadow puppet form.
Along with his trademark hand shadow routine, the show features Maurice the educated flea, and a three-month-old baby – but without giving too much away, they’re not in the form you might expect.
“They’re not necessarily magic tricks as such, but they have some sort of sense of wonder in them,” he says.
“I find puppetry magical.”
Crowe’s hand shadow act, set to Louis Armstrong’s classic song What A Wonderful World, became a worldwide YouTube sensation after it was televised on Spicks and Specks and at the Helpmann Awards in 2007.
The irony of his career taking off on the internet isn’t lost on Crowe.
“Because it was the most primitive form of entertainment looking better than digital. They’re just hands,” he says.
“The great thing about shadow and mime is that you have to use your imagination to see it. The less you show the more people see.
“Your own mind starts to play to fill in the blanks.”
As a child Crowe would go to the State Library of South Australia and devour 1880s magic books.
“My formal education was looking at these images from another time period,” he said.
“Over the years I’ve been able to rework them into a more modern take.”
He went on to study mime with the late Zora Semberova, who’s remembered as the first person to dance Juliet in Serge Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet in 1938 Czechoslovakia.
Semberova, who died last year at the age of 99, helped him direct routines up until her 80s when her eye sight started to fail.
As far as his audience goes, it doesn’t matter who you are.
Even if you’re the Queen of England.
Crowe remembers how Queen Elizabeth herself gave him a standing ovation after his performance at the 2007 Royal Variety Performance in the UK.
“It was either that or she was straightening her dress, I’m not sure.”
* Raymond Crowe will perform at the Playhouse in the Sydney Opera House from May 13-18.