Interview: mentalist Matt Horan on his show All The Devils Are Here

Portsmouth-based mentalist Matt Horan calls into question the methods of those who falsely claim to have psychic abilities in his new show, All The Devils Are Here, at Groundlings Theatre in Portsea on Friday 12th August.

I sat down with Matt to discuss the atmospheric show, his budding career as a mentalist performer, and how he’ll be wowing and sending ripples of laughter through his audience with his apparent psychic skills.

You’re hosting, not your first show, but your first milestone show, would you say? And what shows have you done before which have led up to this?

This is the first full-on show. I’ve worked small for quite a few years now. I love doing it and I think it’s really great, but there’s always been this part of me that’s felt the stuff I’ve developed would be really great as a stage show. That’s what led to my show last year (2015), a very small show as a sort of a test at the Stage Door in Southampton, a lovely small cabaret-style theatre.

The intimate show I did there was a test of where things were in terms of “can I actually do this?” This year’s, at The Groundlings Theatre right here in Portsmouth, gives me a chance to bring back the stuff that worked perfectly, and to revive the stuff that didn’t work as well up to that higher standard. It’ll be bigger, it’ll be better, and there’s more budget piled into this one, that’s for sure!

What’s unique about mentalism, and what sets it aside from magic?

Magic and mentalism are both about that kind of trickery and perception which seems impossible to others. I started out performing with cards — quite classical magic — but then I focused on the mind-reading and mind control aspects of magic, which took me into the mentalism niche.

I started to perform bits of that every now and then, and really enjoyed it, so that’s the path I pursued. At the same time, I was learning hypnosis, and that fed into the growing amalgamation of mentalist work I really liked.

How did you come to have the show at Groundlings?

That was mostly you, Jeeves! Once I’d decided to do the new show, I got in touch with Team Locals to see if you could recommend a theatre, you reeled off a list, and Groundlings was on that list. I contacted Richard Stride, artistic director at the theatre, and he’s absolutely lovely — and awesomely had a small role in a Star Wars film!

Me and Seb, my director, went and visited, and we fell in love with the place. It’s an absolutely gorgeous old theatre, one of the oldest in England. And also one of the most haunted! Which fits the spooky theme of my show somewhat. Groundlings has a great story behind it, and the atmosphere and sound of the theatre is fantastic.

What sort of training, practice, and research do you have to do in the field of mentalism, leading up to the show?

It’s kind of weird — if you’re an athlete, you stretch before running, or if you’re a singer, you rehearse your vocals, but to do the sort of stuff I do, you need more than one person. Sorry to all my friends and family on that one!

I read an awful lot about psychology. Ideas on how people think are intriguing to me anyway, and it makes sense to learn that sort of stuff when you’re practicing mentalism. It’s like any performance art: if you learn more about what your audience is thinking, you can provide them with the best entertainment.

I also absolutely love people-watching. I just love seeing people be people. How they are and how they act is really interesting.

What do you want people who come along to the show to be able to take away from it?

I want the show to be as thought-provoking as it is entertaining — a night of fun mind games and audience interaction filled with memorable moments of wowing disbelief that make people think there may be something more than a theatrical performance at play.

After this show, where do you want to see your career in mentalism go next?

Close-up is something I really want to focus more on. There’s nothing quite like meeting and talking to so many interesting people through performances, and giving them something they don’t expect.

As for shows, I’d love to do a short-term tour of the south, or Hampshire perhaps. After that, I could either continue performing consistently or take some time out to write something completely different before taking it to the stage through a fresh production.

Who would you say your heroes are — who do you look up to in the world of mentalism?

The late great Paul Daniels comes to mind. He’s a magnificent performer, and brought magic to TV. As for mentalists, I love the classics, like Theodore Annemann. I’m inspired by everyone who goes out there to perform incredible feats.