|Sandervalya, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Imagine my surprise while reading an article about Robert Houdin's performance in Algeria, that the theatre that he did his most famous performances in, was still standing today. Those most famous performances were on Oct 28 and 29, 1856. They were the legendary performances that Houdin would claim 'stopped a War'.
The theatre at the time was called, Bab-Azoun Theatre. Today that very same theatre still stands and is known as Théâtre National Algérien Mahieddine Bachtarzi or, The Alegerian National Theatre. It was also formerly the Algiers Opera House.
As the story goes, Robert Houdin was contacted by the French Government to help suppress some uprisings and conflicts with the local tribal marabouts. The idea was to show that 'french magic was greater than the magic of the marabouts.'
The show took place at the Bab-Azoun Theatre with about 60 chieftains taking up the first few rows and I'm assuming quite a few other locals as well. The show featured much of the standard Robert Houdin fare. The big moments were when he presented his Light and Heavy Chest (see below), followed by a rendition of the Bullet Catching feat.
There is some controversy concerning this event, which Jim Steinmeyer explains in his new blog column: https://jimsteinmeyer.com/2022/04/13/what-we-hide-problems-in-algeria-part-one/ This information is also covered in the book, The Secret History of Magic by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer. They tear apart the accounts of the Algeria event to discover what was true, what was false, how much was exaggeration. Suffice to say, it's clear now that a great deal of the event as recorded in Houdin's Memoirs, was untrue or at least exaggeration.
But one thing is clear, the shows DID HAPPEN. And the theatre where these shows, which took Robert-Houdini out of retirement, is still standing today. Mr. Steinmeyer mentions on his blog that the theater would be a good place to hold a magic convention. Wow, can you imagine?!! How incredible that would be.
An interesting side note, on the theatre Facebook Page, there are images of a kid-show magician doing a magic show on the stage. I wonder if this young man was aware of the historical event that took place on thiat very stage 166 years ago???
|The Actual Light and Heavy Chest in the Klosterman Collection