Last Thursday, I received the new Barrie Richardson DVDs in the mail, and I've been spending much time since, in order to bring you this review.
Even before these DVDs were released, there were several remarks about Barrie's performance just based on L&L's preview:
The best response to these concerns came from Steve Pellegrino's sadly-missing (at this writing) Mentalist Magazine, in his article New Barrie Richardson DVDs: Pre-Review (link is cached, be patient):
If ever there was a set of L&L DVDs that are going to create a divide – this is the set! So many people are familiar with Barrie’s wonderful books and are anxious to see the material come to life – if they already haven’t started performing the material themselves.
Mentioning the up-coming release to several close friends, most had the same reaction and that was Barrie isn’t the most dynamic performer. And that is true. Here’s one quote from a magic forum:
He is very boring to watch though. I only like mentalism when it’s fast, direct, and impossible.
And this is where the divide takes place. The material on the DVDs is great. He is an incredible thinker and the material is worthy to be in any mentalist’s repertoire. But Barrie’s presentations tend to be slow. So when buying these you need to know why you’re buying these.
Are you buying these to be entertained?
Are you buying these to potentially add new material to your act?
Let me ask you a couple of other questions.
Are you the type of a performer who is looking to have everything handed to them and all you have to do is learn the script?
Are you the type of performer who is 100% sure about their onstage character and prefers to write their own presentations?
If you’re an amateur, just looking to be entertained with some new DVDs, you will be disappointed. If you’re a working pro that can see past the presentation on the DVD and envision their own take on it, then you will benefit from these many times over.
This is very true. If you're used to learning not only the methods but the presentations from a given set of DVDs, then you're going to miss the value of these DVDs.
Side note: How can the commenter mentioned above not consider the routine in the last 3 minutes of the preview to be fast, direct, and impossible?
The two things that stand out the most in these DVDs are Barrie Richardson's professorial style of presenting, and his ability to get great use out of the simplest of tools. The latter actually seems to be an outgrowth of the first.
Most of the routines are wrapped in a story or metaphor. Even if this isn't currently a part of your style, there are many good lessons here in using this style that you may find yourself considering this approach for some routines.
Barrie definitely likes his methods to be simple, direct, and effective. You can see in the videos that he tends towards methods and routines that work just as well for a few people as they do for a large crowd. He also tends to use the same principles and methods repeatedly and appropriately, yet is smart enough to disguise them by giving them different contexts.
A good example of Barrie's approach is the Impossible Knot Routine on volume 1. The GW Hunter Knot is known by many magicians, the majority of which don't learn its true value. If, as Rudy Coby suggests, you learn with simpler tricks, and get your audience to respond to you instead of the tricks, this is one of those effects that can be very valuable. For example, Timothy Hyde uses the Hunter Knot to reliably draw an audience.
As an aside, many people associate Barrie Richardson with mentalism, but a look at the effect descriptions will show that there's plenty of routines for both magicians and mentalists.
The methods themselves are usually first taught solo by Barrie, which is often an overview that assumes much of the knowledge that is required. After the solo teachings, Barrie is often joined by Michael Weber, where details of the method are more fully fleshed out. Often, they also discuss other possible presentation ploys, and even alternative methods!
The Bill In Lemon routine is an excellent example, where the importance of moments, appearance, and attention control are stressed. Even if you never do the Bill In Lemon, there's plenty here to learn and apply in a wide variety of effects.
Amusingly, those who don't see the kind of performance they like in the preview will most likely miss the gems in the discussions with Michael Weber that could help them make their presentations more effective and in line with their ideals!
On volume 2, the focus turns to mentalism effects. However, to think them only as mentalism is limiting, since it wouldn't be difficult to adapt many of them to magic.
In the above preview, you see Dollar Divination and Thoughts With Wings performed, both from this volume.
As you can see by now, I'm very impressed with the lessons of presentation taught on the DVD. That's why I'm not discussing individual effects here. In Second Spot, as a matter of fact, the method is almost secondary. Rather, the audience management and presentation options get more attention here, especially in the discussions with Michael Weber.
There's also a repeated emphasis on giving the routines an “everyday” feel. Sure, the happenings are magical, but they're associated with experience to give them a very realistic feel. This is only part of the true value of the story/metaphor approach used so much throughout these DVDs.
The 3rd DVD will be of special interest to Grey Matters readers, as it contain math- and memory-related routines. Often presenting such feats is a real challenge because it's all too easy to present them with an air of superiority.
There's a wide variety of approaches here that are used to remove that sting. In Quartet, they become part of the action as the cards are identified. In Zebras and the Magic Square, they're drawn in with an incomplete metaphor, which is brought full circle on after the magic square itself is done. The metaphor is so important here, even anyone who knows the same magic square method you do will have cause to enjoy it, and not feel the need to “catch” you. In the Human Movie Projector, the audience themselves provides the climax!
All this talk about metaphors and stories may sound high-minded and theoretical, but it's really very practical. I suggest the book Made To Stick for anyone who truly wants to understand what Barrie is doing.
Also, it should be noted that not even Barrie feels the need to present things this way every time. In the Memorized Time Magazine piece, he lets the feat be exactly what it sounds like: someone recalling the details of a magazine they've memorized.
It's important to note that, by the time this piece is presented, the audience should already be at ease with the performer from previous routines. Also, Barrie makes this more interesting by employing related items that aren't part of the magazine. This makes him seem less like a machine giving data, and more human. In the discussion with Michael Weber, the lessons in what NOT to do when presenting this feat are probably even more valuable that what to do!
Overall, I'd have to say that this is not a tape for beginners. If you're already developing a consistent stage persona, you're in the target audience for this tape. Even if you never use a single piece from these tapes, the lessons in presentation and thinking applied to other routines are more than worth the price of these tapes.
As a more complete look at the thinking involved, I'd also recommend his books Theater of the Mind and Act Two, as companions to the tapes.
Magic dealers should give the following test to anyone interested in these tapes: Show the footage of Michael Weber cutting up a Jerry's Nugget card box (a brand of cards that are often highly sought after and valued by card magicians). If they wince, it's a good sign that such a person would get no value from the Barrie Richardson DVDs.