Underground © La Escalera de Jacob

Magic beneath the streets of Lavapiés

In a dark cellar, just around the corner from the Lavapiés dungeon, a young Madrileño is enchanting people with his magic three times a week. His spellbinding illusions may not have been thrust onto the underground stage at all had it not been for hard times, but this sombre era in Spanish history is inspiring a new movement and Carlos Devanti is a driving force behind it.

I’d always been interested in magic from a young age,

…says Carlos (28), “due to my uncle always showing me magic tricks with gadgets he’d bought.” Despite this, Carlos wasn’t always destined to be a magician as it was only after graduating from university and struggling to find a job in crisis-hit Spain that he realised he had to follow his dreams.

It was a newly-opened bar in Chamberí that gave him his first break, offering him the opportunity to perform two small shows a week. However, Carlos soon outgrew its tiny stage and, in 2014, found himself performing in El Laberinto Mágico: an initiative that brought professional and amateur magicians together at La Escalera de Jacob, the fringe venue where Carlos continues to perform to small, sold-out audiences today – a feat that not everyone can lay claim to in Madrid.

The performance space in the basement of La Escalera de Jacob is perfect for Carlos’ show. It provides intimacy, which, in turn, allows him to constantly, and comically, interact with his audiences. His 19th-century-inspired magic, which has been updated for modern audiences, constantly leaves you lost for words while you desperately attempt to figure out the logic behind his tricks. However, the key to Carlos’ success is actually that his magic continuously builds throughout his show: something which is only mastered by the most skilled of performers.

Knowing this and knowing that making your way in the magic world isn’t easy, Carlos often supports debuting magicians, giving them the opportunity to perform a small set within his shows – thus helping to foster new talent. This is vital as he claims that some venues in Madrid are currently programming poor-quality magicians without vetting their material first and that this can end up having a detrimental effect on the magic scene in Madrid.

According to Carlos, this is especially worrying as “unlike in the UK, Spain still largely sees magic as being for children”. However, he is keen to remind me that performing for children requires more visual tricks while a successful show for adults hinges on complexity.

Carlos is fully deserving of his three weekly shows at La Escalera de Jacob, and having firmly carved out a place for himself on Madrid’s no-frills circuit, he wants to continue growing as a magician. This will undoubtedly require him to eventually perform at bigger venues, but being the true magician that he is, he sees it purely as his chance to perform larger, more spectacular tricks. Because as he admits himself (and as clumsy as it may sound), “I enjoy myself when I make others enjoy themselves.” In other words, just like all great performers, he lives to entertain.


This article was written by James Vandeleur, who’s earned his critic credentials over many years spent exploring Madrid’s alternative theatre scene. Read more of James´ no-frills theatre articles here.

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