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Rob Drummond, Bullet Catch
Photo by Eoin Carey

Are you ready for 'Bullet Catch'?

Could you shoot someone live on stage? Rob Drummond’s theatrical show ‘Bullet Catch’ wants you to

By Ben Walters
When the gun comes out,’ Rob Drummond says, ‘the atmosphere changes. It gets a lot colder and darker in the room.’ Funny, that. ‘Bullet Catch’, which arrives next week at the National Theatre’s cool new pop-up venue, The Shed, is a nail-biter of an Edinburgh Fringe hit based on that notorious stage magic trick in which a magician seems to catch a bullet fired from a real gun at point-blank range.

It’s a stunt with a deadly prop at its centre and a blood-spattered 500-year history. Audience members have been injured and performers have died. Houdini decided against it on safety grounds – and he was happy to be buried alive! So the first question for Drummond has to be: what are you, mad?

‘I get that a lot,’ he admits. ‘But it wasn’t really a choice. I’m probably only going to do one magic show in a theatrical setting, so why do joining rings when you can get someone to shoot you?’ Er, because it sounds terrifying? ‘I’ve done it more than 50 times, so I’m not petrified. But it has an edge.’

Drummond isn’t even a trained magician. But the Glaswegian playwright has been fascinated by magic since he was eight and vividly recalls Paul Daniels performing the bullet catch on TV. He drew on the routine’s history to create his show, in which he tells the (allegedly) true-life story of William Henderson: a stage magician whose death by bullet catch in 1912 might have been an elaborate form of suicide. Oh, and invites a random member of the audience to pull the trigger as he performs the notorious trick himself.
So how do the volunteers react to the pressure? ‘There are the ones who are very gung-ho and almost don’t blink. You do think: Are they crazy? And there are the ones who ultimately refuse to shoot. We’ve had three of those.’ One of them was Drummond’s mum. ‘The first thing I say is not to point the gun at anyone; she immediately pointed it at my dad. I had to admonish her. She didn’t like her son telling her off in front of 200 people so then she refused to shoot me.’ Others have been more enthusiastic – such as the guy who turned out to be a producer, and went on to take ‘Bullet Catch’ from Edinburgh to Broadway.

‘New York audiences were much more blasé about the gun,’ says Drummond. ‘They were more ready to pull the trigger too.’ Will Londoners be up for shooting him as well? ‘I never know what’s going to happen,’ he says. That’s what turns ‘Bullet Catch’ into something menacing and more exciting than your average magic show. ‘Obviously it’s made as safe as possible,’ says Drummond, ‘but you’ve got a person you’ve never met before being given a weapon to aim at your face. There’s always a possibility something will go wrong.’

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