A pint with...
Keith Barry on his sinning ways
Master mentalist Keith Barry is back with what has now become an annual summer residency at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.
Last year he invited audiences into The Asylum. This year we’re being taken on a tour of the eight deadly sins – that’s the conventional seven plus one of Keith’s own.
Having been assured that the eighth sin that he’ll be demonstrating on stage has nothing to do with masturbation, we caught up with Keith to ask him about the new show, upsetting religious types, getting hypnotised himself and his ‘American’ accent.
JOE: Another year and another run of shows at the Olympia. Can we expect a fair few new tricks this time around?
Keith Barry: It’s completely different. For instance, unlike in The Asylum, the show I did last year, there’s very little hypnosis in 8 Deadly Sins. In The Asylum a full half of the show was based on hypnosis.
I always come up with the name of the show first and then backtrack. Last year I came up with the title The Asylum and then did crazy research into what happened in asylums in the past. With this show I did masses of research into the seven deadly sins. There will be an eighth deadly sin revealed in the Olympia, and all of the routines are designed to slot in to the seven, or rather eight, deadly sins.
For instance, I’m getting a confession box made where people from the audience will come up and mentally confess imaginary sins.
Keith: Yeah, I learnt the hard way that people weren’t buying tickets for a while because they were thinking that I might reveal that they’re cheating on their wife or that they robbed a house last week, so we’re getting people to come up with imaginary sins. If they can’t think of one, there’ll be a ‘sin wall’ with about 400 funny sins posted on it that they can choose from.
There’s escapology in this show. I’ve been getting my head wrapped in clingfilm every second or third night. If you’ve never had your head wrapped in clingfilm before, I can tell you it’s an unnerving experience. It’s way worse than putting your head in a plastic bag – something that I hope nobody reading this has done, but which I’ve done many times as research.
I try to make every show that I come up with different in terms of content and different visually. I’ve had two 11-foot coffins made for this new show...
JOE: Are you expecting bizarrely tall people to turn up and volunteering to get involved in your antics?
Keith: No, just to make sure that nobody injures themselves when they fall into the coffins – and someone from the audience will fall into a coffin every single night.
Everything is designed to bring people into a fantasy world where they’ll laugh until their faces hurt, and hopefully be amazed as well.
JOE: I’ve heard that you plan to hypnotise the whole audience. What if people turn up who just want to pay their money and observe rather than actively be involved in the show – can they do that?
Keith: Eh, yes and no. I’ve never had a problem getting people to take part. Last time I had people running in order to get on the stage to take part. I had to turn people away.
You can just go and be an observer... for the most part. Every single person in the audience will be involved in two of the things I’m doing. People will have no option but to go home with a semi-permanent reminder of the Eight Deadly Sins that’ll be with them for around a week...
If you want to come along but really don’t want to come on stage, then I’m not going to force someone to do so. With all my shows, I think people are healthily nervous of coming up on stage.
People are nervous because they don’t fully understand what I do or how I do it. They don’t fully understand how I can read body language or hypnotise people or how I do what I do.
I think this will be the most visual show I’ve put together. Mentalism can sometimes be visually boring – there’s not a lot to look at – but with this show there definitely is. It’s a visual feast.
JOE: So will you be taking 8 Deadly Sins on tour after the Olympia run, as you have with previous shows?
Keith: Not straight away. I’ve decided not to tour at all this year. We’re using big props, there’s a big stage set – it’s not something that will easily tour so we’ll have to look at how we can adapt the show to take it on the road.
JOE: Keith, you seem to enjoy being the one in control of proceedings when you’re up on stage, but have you ever been hypnotised yourself? Have you ever been the one in the chair being told to close your eyes and go into a deep sleep?
Keith: Yes I have.
Keith: No, not recently. The only time I was hypnotised was when I was 14 or 15 and that was by a man called Paul Golden, who a lot of people will remember.
Paul was the foremost hypnotist in Ireland in the 70s, 80s and 90s. He was my idol and inspiration and I went to see him putting on a show in my hometown of Waterford. He hypnotised a whole bunch of people on stage, gradually whittling it down until there were only four or five of us left – meaning that I was one of the best subjects.