Cirque de la Lune
I stepped out of the front door of the small seafront hotel and into a dark, miserable evening. A light rain hung in the air as I pulled my coat collar up and headed towards the town centre. After having spent a boring day at a conference that my employers had sent me on alone, I now had the evening to fill so I decided to venture out and investigate the limited entertainment on offer in the town.
There’s nothing quite so depressing as an out-of-season holiday town in the rain I thought to myself as I walked down empty streets, past closed shops and amusement arcades. Finally arriving at the main promenade, I made my way out slowly along the pier, the breeze stiffening as I left the shore and the lights of the town behind.
Arriving at the pier’s end, I was surprised to find that the theatre was actually open. Inspecting the poster outside, it declared there was a variety “spectacular” on that evening, the last before the pier closed for the winter shutdown. I figured that, even if the acts were poor, being inside would be preferable to standing at the end of a pier on a dark, rainy evening in late Autumn so I decided to buy a ticket.
It was an open floor venue with tables scattered around and a low stage at the far end. The performances didn’t start for another half an hour so I found that I had my choice of seats. After buying a drink at the bar, I made my way to one of the tables at the front, choosing a seat that was directly in front of the centre of the stage.
While I waited for things to commence, I read the small programme I’d been given by the receptionist detailing the acts appearing on that evening’s bill. Things started with a comedian, then a singer and finally a variety act of vague description simply called “The Danburys”.
I occasionally looked around to see the seating filling slowly with other weather weary people and, by the time the compere came onto the stage to muted applause, there was quite an audience sat at the tables around me.
I was immediately glad the entrance ticket had been cheap because the comedian was dire. His weak one-liners barely raised a laugh and, having sensed he was dying out there, I suspected that he left the stage earlier than his act required. There followed a short interval for some minor stage changes and I watched as, even after only one act, a large number of the audience took the opportunity to seek entertainment elsewhere.
The singer that followed was unintentionally more amusing than the comedian as she strangled a few Celine Dion numbers and missed more notes than she hit. Then came the interval before the final act of the evening and I watched as two anonymous stagehands cleared the singer’s stool and then wheeled on a large, cloth covered trolley, positioning it directly in front of me in the centre of the stage. Next to it they placed a small table and, on it, an ornately decorated wooden box.
I was so engrossed with all this activity that I failed to notice until the stage went quiet again that the venue had actually completely emptied and I was now the only remaining member of the audience. At that point, I also considered leaving but before I could make a discreet exit the lights dimmed in the auditorium and politeness effectively trapped me at my table. I sank down in my seat to lessen the embarrassment of being the only person applauding.
The stage lights brightened as the final act was announced and from behind the side curtain a young couple emerged to my singular applause. They walked showily to the front of the stage to present themselves to the “audience”. Despite the lighting, it would have been obvious to them that the place was empty except for me and a couple of uninterested bar staff lurking in the distant shadows but they remained professional and bowed to the room as if every seat was filled.
The male partner appeared to be in his late twenties and was dressed in a loose white shirt and black trousers giving him the look of an amateur TV talent show magician. The girl was noticeably younger, certainly no older than twenty, with short brown hair and wearing a loose spangly cape that fastened at the front and covered her fully from her neck down to the floor.
After an awkwardly long time, during which they milked the non-existent applause in a well rehearsed way, the girl stood back slightly as the guy moved centre stage and started to describe the “incredible feat” that I (and I alone, as he dryly observed) was about to witness. Gesturing to the girl beside him and immodestly introducing her as the “world’s greatest living escape artist”, he extravagantly explained how she would “amaze us all” with her ability to escape from the “tightest bonds” whilst in the “greatest of peril”.
With that, the “magician” lavishly swept the cloth back from the trolley that had been wheeled out earlier to reveal a clear Perspex box sitting on top of another slightly larger cabinet that still remained covered with a second cloth. He picked up the box and brought it forward to show the “audience”, moving it slowly from left to right so that the imaginary crowd could clearly see what he declared would become her “chamber of terror”. It was rectangular in shape and, though it was difficult to judge its exact dimensions, it was obvious that, once inside, the girl would not have much room to move.
In a flamboyant way, the “magician” described the “fiendishness” of her Perspex “prison” by holding the clear, hinged lid wide so that the “audience” could get a better view of the numerous metal loops firmly anchored to the inside of the box. He then proceeded to show how the lid could be locked shut with two equally spaced substantial metal clasps and demonstrated with well rehearsed difficulty how she would only be able to release the locks on these external clasps by reaching out through two small hand-sized holes in the box’s side. As he continued to hold it aloft, I noticed there were also a number of air holes that had been cut into the box’s transparent base and also into the lid.
With a flourish, the “magician” placed the box down on the floor beside the trolley and directed the “audience’s” attention to the wooden box on the small table. Opening the lid slowly to maintain the suspense, he tilted the box forward so the “audience” could clearly see what he referred to as the “instruments of torture” within. In the deeper recess on one side of its velvet lined interior were numerous lengths of substantial looking silver chain. In the other recess were many sizeable brass padlocks, all neatly arranged in individual compartments.
Having already endured two very weak acts in this evening’s “variety spectacular”, my initial expectations for this final performance hadn’t been high and all this cheesy showmanship was really not helping matters. It gave the whole act a very amateur feel and, as a result, I’d begun to feel a sense of disappointment that it was just going to end up being some weak trick and not a genuine escape attempt after all.
In an effort to continue to build the tension, the posturing and theatrics continued. He went on to explain in doom-laden tones how, once her body had been immobilised by these endless restraints, this girl - this “brave, fearless girl” - would then be placed inside her transparent “chamber of terror”. She would then be tightly secured inside as even more chains and padlocks were used to attach her “bound, helpless body” to the box’s many interior metal loops. Once fastened in place, the lid would then be closed on her and firmly sealed shut with two keyless combination padlocks applied to the metal clasps on the outside.
Closing and replacing the wooden box, the “magician’s” tone became more excitable as he started to describe how there was yet more to the girl’s “date with danger”. He stepped over to the trolley and, with a great flourish, pulled back the second cloth to reveal a simple glass cabinet on wheels. The dimensions were not much greater than the box in which the girl would be chained but what really drew my attention was that the cabinet was three quarters full of water.
The “magician” proceeded to describe how, once tightly bound and secured inside the first box, the girl would then be lowered down into this water filled cabinet until her “chamber of terror” was totally submerged. I suddenly realised that what I had originally mistaken for air holes were actually intended to serve the opposite purpose and allow the box she was bound and shackled inside to fill completely with water preventing the possibility of any hidden air pockets. The “magician” then fatefully declared that, at this point, her escape would be allowed to begin and she would have just that one last lung full of air to escape before she “met her watery doom”.
The addition of this underwater element only served to reinforce my doubts about the validity of this act as a genuine escape attempt. It added so much extra difficulty and danger to what was an already challenging act that my earlier sense of disappointment now turned to real scepticism. This was to change to disbelief when, after a dramatic pause, the “magician” extravagantly announced that there still remained one final twist to the girl’s “date with danger”.
Taking and holding her hand aloft, he proclaimed that not only was this girl the “world’s greatest living escape artist”, she was also a “master of Yoga” and would use her flexibility to contort herself before she was bound. As the “magician” colourfully phrased it, she would actually be “doubly bound”: by both the endless chains and padlocks and her own limbs, making her escape the “ultimate peril”.
The use of her apparent contortion abilities to further increase the complexity of her already impossible escape left me incredulous as I tried to imagine how she could possibly hold her breath long enough to tackle the challenges she would be facing. Not only would she have to make her way out of all of those chains and padlocks, she would also have to do so while her movements were further restricted as a result of being contorted throughout her attempt.
Even once she’d freed herself from all the shackles, she would still then be trapped inside the box. While continuing to hold her breath, she would have to somehow manipulate a hand out far enough to be able to access the external padlocks, not once but twice. Only after all this would she finally be able to open the lid, climb out of the water and draw breath again.
What she was apparently going to attempt just sounded so impossible, made more unbelievable by the endless showmanship and artificial tension building, that I concluded it simply had to be an trick of some sort. Disappointed as I was, I reasoned that it couldn’t be any worse than the previous acts had been so I decided to sit back, put my reservations to one side and try to enjoy the show regardless.
Suddenly, the performance itself appeared to begin. Up until this point the girl had remained passive, standing quietly to the left while the “magician” had dramatically explained her “fate”. With a grand gesture, he stepped back allowing the girl room to perform a dramatic twirl that positioned her centre stage. She showily unfastened the front of her cape and let it slip from her shoulders for the “magician” to take it from her. This revealed her figure and her costume for the first time. She was petite with a slim, athletic body shape that was accentuated by her choice of outfit. I had been expecting something glittery and skimpy, the sort of thing you would expect a magician’s assistant might wear, but I was surprised to see she was actually wearing a simple black, full body lycra catsuit that covered her legs to her ankles, her arms to her wrists and zipped up the back to a full collar.
After pausing momentarily to present herself to the “audience”, she proceeded to demonstrate her “amazing flexibility” by slowly sliding her right foot forward and dropping elegantly down into a front split. The apparent lack of ease with which she made it down to the floor suggested to me that her flexibility was more average than “amazing” but I was intrigued to see what sort of position she would adopt when she was being bound. After briefly holding her split while I offered some applause, she stood up and returned to standing beside the “magician”.
For her “momentous challenge”, the “magician” declared that the girl now needed to prepare herself mentally and physically by using her Yoga skills to slow her breathing and her heart rate. At this point, the girl sat down centre stage and gracefully pulled her legs into a basic Lotus pose before placing the backs of her open hands on her knees and closing her eyes. She rolled her head and relaxed her shoulders before visibly slowing her breathing into a long, slow rhythm. After watching her achieve her meditative state for a few moments, the “magician” then stepped forward and stated that he needed a volunteer from the audience to assist in binding this “brave, fearless girl” to ensure that her “peril” was genuine.
Although I would never normally put myself forward to go up onto a stage in front of an audience, the circumstances obliged me to offer my help. To their credit, the “magician” and the girl had so far remained entirely professional throughout the performance and, despite my reservations about the act, I felt sorry for the audience-free situation in which they were forced to perform. Reluctantly, I stood up and, at the “magician’s” direction, joined him and the still meditating girl on stage.
Squinting slightly as my eyes grew accustomed to the bright stage lights, I had to stifle a grin as the “magician” continued the well rehearsed patter and asked me my name so he could introduce me to the rest of the non-existent audience. I duly gave it and waited patiently while he explained to a room full of empty seats how, when the girl was ready, I would help him to apply the chains and make sure the padlocks were genuine and properly secured as each one was locked shut.
As the “magician” finished speaking, right on cue, I watched as the girl slowly opened her eyes and calmly eased her legs out of their Lotus pose. She appeared totally relaxed as she maintained the same distant, focussed stare she had done throughout her period of meditation. The look of calm on her face was the first convincingly authentic part of the performance I had seen all evening.
Turning so that she was side on to the “audience”, she slowly lay back on to the wooden stage and rested her arms down by her side. After a brief pause for more slow, rhythmic breathing, she lifted her right leg and, in one continuous, controlled movement, took hold of her ankle in both hands, bent her leg at the knee and brought her foot up to the centre of her chest. Holding it there for a moment to get accustomed to the stretch, she then bent her head forward and, in one smooth action, brought her foot down behind her head, her ankle coming to rest directly on the back of her neck. She then relaxed for a few moments before serenely repeating the move with her left leg.
She now had both of her feet tucked neatly behind her head so that her ankles crossed squarely behind her neck. Her back remained relatively straight with the flexibility required by the pose appearing to come mainly from her hips. With her legs now folded up against the sides of her body, the position looked suitably compact for her confinement in the Perspex box. She appeared to be comfortable enough as she lay there but she definitely gave the impression that she was pushing the limits of her flexibility.
Now established in the pose, the girl allowed her arms to relax down by her side as she continued her breathing rhythm but I noticed how the restrictions imposed by her contortions made her inhale look much more deliberate and laboured. Being the only member of the “audience”, it was up to me whether “we” applauded the girl’s flexible achievement. She ignored me as I awkwardly congratulated her on her pose, choosing instead to fix her gaze into the middle distance and continue to concentrate on relaxing and controlling her breathing. Another couple of minutes passed before she finally gave a barely imperceptible nod to the “magician” who proudly announced to the empty room that the girl was ready for her “date with danger”.
He stepped over to the wooden box on the table and opened it with as much drama as he could muster. Extracting a shorter length of chain, he knelt down by the girl’s shoulder and gently pushed her head forward to expose her ankles where they crossed. She held her head forward for him with apparent difficulty suggesting that even this was a challenge for her flexibility. He wound the chain three turns horizontally around her crossed ankles before looking up at me and requesting I pick out a padlock - “any padlock” - and check it thoroughly before handing it to him.
Thankfully, he stopped short of insisting I present the padlock to the “audience” given that the “audience” was effectively standing next to him on stage, but he still asked me to inspect it in some detail as well as the key inserted into its base. Obligingly, I played along with the act and opened and closed the padlock several times before finally verifying that it appeared to be genuine. I handed it over to him, leaving it unlocked and keeping hold of the key as he had requested. He secured it to the chain around her ankles to firmly hold it before taking a similar sized chain and wrapping it three vertical turns between her heels and over the first chain so that her ankles were now held in their ‘X’ position.
After getting me to verify and pass down to him another random padlock, the “magician” applied it to the second chain, at the same time also interlinking the padlock shackle carefully through the first chain, making her ankle binding effectively one fixing. He stood and, with an exaggerated gesture, invited me to inspect his handiwork. I duly knelt down by the girl’s head and tugged vigorously on the chains and padlocks securing her ankles to find that her feet were tightly and securely held behind her neck.
At this moment, the “magician” explained to the empty room how the girl would now need to be turned over for the next set of chains to be applied. In one quick movement, he lifted her feet and, pivoting her over on her buttocks, lowered her to the stage face down. Now resting on just her feet and hips, she was staring blankly at the wooden stage floor as her breathing rhythm visibly continued.
This time using a much longer length of chain, the “magician” first wrapped it a couple of times around her upper left leg about half way along her thigh. This seemed to prove difficult for him as he had to force the chain between her leg and her body but he eventually managed three complete turns which he secured in place with a padlock. After taking the chain horizontally across her back, he pulled it tight and then proceeded to wrap the chain three turns around the opposite thigh in the same position between her hip and knee. This binding was then also secured with yet another lock.
Clearly well practiced, he quickly repeated the chains going from leg to leg across her back another three times; once on her upper leg above her knee, again on her lower leg just below the knee and finally in the middle of her calf so that the chain crossed tightly behind her shoulders.
Together with the bindings on her ankles, the girl now had a total of six chains and fourteen padlocks holding her in her contorted position. As she appeared to impassively block everything out around her and continue to stare blankly at the stage floor, her concentration remained on controlling her breathing which was noticeably more laboured now her upper body was straining against the strict limitations of the chains across her back.
Suddenly jumping to his feet and arriving by my side, the “magician” invited me to inspect the “inescapability” of the four chains going across her back and shoulders. Once again kneeling down beside her, I tugged repeatedly and vigorously at each of the chains in turn and found it impossible to get my fingers between the metal links and her back without risking hurting her. I was happy to verify that her bindings were tight and secure and certainly appeared to be inescapable.
Extracting two shorter chain lengths from the wooden box, the “magician” dramatically announced to the empty room that it was finally time to complete the girl’s bindings by chaining her wrists together behind her back. The girl remained passive as the “magician” pulled each arm in turn behind her, finally crossing her hands over ready to receive the inevitable chains and padlocks. He quickly and efficiently applied the first restraint, going horizontally a number of turns before securing the links with a verified padlock of my choosing. Like he had done with the second chain around the girl’s ankles, he took this last chain in the opposite direction around her wrists to hold them in a rigid ‘X’ position. The second padlock I passed him was then applied, interlinking the two chains to effectively create one single binding.
Once again requested by the “magician” to inspect his efforts, I knelt down behind the girl to verify that her arms were suitably immobilised. After a great deal of tugging and pulling I confirmed that her arms were pulled tightly around behind her back and her wrists were firmly secured behind her body.
Getting back to my feet, I took a moment to view the girl now that she had been completely immobilised. The ladder effect of chains going from leg to leg at regular horizontal spacings across her back kept her legs pulled tight in against the sides of her body. Added to the chains around her ankles holding her feet behind her head, her contorted body appeared to be inescapably fastened into position.
Finally, having her wrists manacled together behind her back only served to enhance the appearance of total helplessness and make her body look even more compact and ready for her Perspex chamber. Because the flexibility she used to place her legs behind her head seemed to come from her hips, her back remained relatively straight. This forced her to bring her arms some way up behind her back in order to be able reach around far enough to get her wrists to cross. I suddenly realised that while her wrists remained securely chained together there was no obvious way she could bring her arms in front of her body to enable her to work on freeing herself.
She is so securely bound and her body is so twisted, how can she possibly escape? It must be a trick! I thought to myself.
At that moment, the “magician” enthusiastically announced that it was time for the girl to be fastened into her “chamber of terror”. Right on cue, one of the anonymous stagehands who had set the stage prior to this act appeared from behind the side curtain. He carried with him a large object on a stand covered with a velvet cloth which he placed to one side of the stage before coming over and picking up the Perspex box and placing it down next to the girl.
I watched as the “magician” opened the lid and, grabbing the girl’s hips while the stagehand took hold of her feet, lifted her gently up from the stage. In one deft movement, they turned her over mid-air and lowered her carefully into her Perspex chamber. The girl remained oblivious to being manhandled in this way, instead maintaining her distant gaze and continuing to control her breathing, her cheeks puffing out slightly as she exhaled. Looking visibly more comfortable now she was laid on her back, she appeared completely relaxed and focussed as she was positioned snugly in the base of the box, her toes touching one end, her hips the other.
The two men then began the process of securing her to the box’s interior shackles, working quickly and efficiently with the remaining chains as I continued to pass them random padlocks. They would begin by locking a fresh chain to a shackle and then take it to one of the four chains wrapped around the girl’s legs. Pulling it as tight as they could, they would then padlock the two chains together and take the surplus links back to a different box shackle, again locking it in place.
Eventually, having used up all the chains, their task was complete and I was asked for one last time to inspect her bindings and also verify the fixings firmly securing her legs to the bottom of the box. I knelt down beside her as she continued to ignore all around her and tugged repeatedly at all of the anchor chains along the length of her body. I was surprised at how tight the “magician” and his assistant had managed to make the chains and there was no doubt in my mind that she was very much attached to the interior of the box. After nodding my approval, my scrutineering role was complete and, with flamboyant thanks for my efforts, I was invited to return to my seat to enjoy the rest of the performance.
Sitting back down at my table, I was surprised to find that my beer was still cold. Although it had seemed longer, I’d actually been on stage for less than ten minutes and yet, in that short time, the girl had gone from being at liberty to being helplessly bound and contorted and securely fastened inside a small Perspex box.
The final element of her confinement was despatched equally quickly. The lid of the box was closed on her and the metal clasps folded down into place. Two special combination padlocks that I’d been careful to avoid choosing throughout her earlier bindings were then applied to the external clasps, securing the lid tightly shut.
The “magician”, with help from his assistant, then proceeded to demonstrate to the “audience” just how securely the girl really was mounted to the inside of her “chamber of terror”. They lifted the box up onto its end and turned it so that the girl was now upright and facing the auditorium. Trussed up as she was with her ankles tightly held against the back of her neck, she was unable to lift her head to look out over the room as she remained held fast by the array of chains that attached her legs to the box’s interior shackles. From my perspective in the “audience”, her black costume contrasted well with the light coloured curtain at the rear of the stage and, as she hung there, tightly suspended inside her clear Perspex box, her contorted and bound body rather creepily appeared as if it were caught in some kind of giant web.
To further illustrate how effectively she was anchored inside the box, the two men swiftly lifted it and turned it upside down so that she was suddenly suspended face down looking at the stage floor. With seemingly little regard for her comfort, they moved the box to and fro quite vigorously in an apparent attempt to shake her free but it was obvious that she was held fast and that she and the box effectively moved as one.
Despite being shaken around in this way for what looked like an uncomfortably long time, she looked unfazed by her ordeal as the box was turned the right way up and returned to the stage floor. Her composure genuinely appeared to be one of relaxed calm as the “magician” then announced in doom-laden tones how the moment of her “ultimate peril” had finally arrived.
As he spoke, the second anonymous stagehand appeared from behind the side curtain and walked over to the water filled glass cabinet, quickly adjusting its position so that it was more clearly visible to the “audience”, before removing the lid and placing it out of sight at the rear of the stage. He then joined the first stagehand as they positioned themselves at each end of the Perspex box. As they did so, the “magician” made his way over to the object on the stand to the left of the stage that had been brought out earlier. He lavishly removed the cloth to reveal a large red LED readout that currently showed “00:00”. This, he explained, would show the length of time the girl was submerged and holding her breath. He jokingly invited the “audience” to try to hold their breath along with her.
With that, he nodded theatrically to his assistants and they duly picked the boxed girl up and held her over the glass cabinet. After pausing momentarily for dramatic effect, they began slowly lowering the box down into the water. As they did so, I watched as the holes in its base allowed water to enter and its interior filled almost as quickly as it was being immersed. The chains and padlocks glistened as the water rushed in around them and small bubbles danced upwards over her bodysuit as air escaped from under her body while the box filled around her.
At the point where the box was half submerged, they stopped lowering and held her there for a few moments. Her body was now completely immersed with only her toes and face still just above the surface. I guessed this was to let her get comfortable with the temperature of the water for a few moments as well as allow her to take her last opportunity to catch those vital few final breaths.
Although I was still very sceptical that this was going to be a genuine escape attempt, I couldn’t help feeling a growing anxiety for the girl and her impending challenge. From my involvement earlier on stage I had no doubts about how tightly she was bound and also how securely she was fastened to the inside of the Perspex box. All the padlocks were branded and appeared to be perfectly real. The chains had been applied in such a way that, with her body also contorted the way it was, they appeared to prevent any movement she might want to try.
I was even more convinced of how effectively she was confined when I saw the box being turned upside down and shaken about. There was just no way she could have faked being held so firmly. I realised that, ironically, because the effectiveness of her bindings was all so genuine, it probably made me even more sceptical about what she was going to attempt.
How could she possibly escape? What she’s about to attempt is so impossible, surely it has to be a trick? I thought to myself. But how? There aren’t any hidden air pockets or secret doors in the Perspex box and there is nowhere that she could have concealed any keys, certainly not in that costume. So how can she possibly escape? It must be a trick!
Ever since she had pulled her feet behind her head earlier, the girl had then remained entirely passive while others did all the work to her. Now, however, it seemed that it was time for her part in this performance to really begin. I watched as the girl took a few exaggerated final breaths and then gave a single nod to her bearers.
Suddenly everything seemed to take on a real sense of urgency. Her descent into the water filled cabinet began again but at a much quicker pace. The water now forced its way in through the holes in the box’s base, filling it rapidly. As it did so, the girl appeared to maintain her calm demeanour as she watched the water level rising relentlessly around her face until, moments later, her head was entirely underwater.
Only a few seconds later, the stagehands were setting the box gently down in the bottom of the cabinet. The Perspex box was now completely immersed and I watched as the last few bubbles of air exited through the holes in the lid. The girl glanced upwards and watched as the stagehands withdraw their arms from the water, finally leaving her helpless and alone, chained and sealed into her water filled box at the bottom of the tank.
The stagehands then quickly exited the stage and the “magician” used that as his cue to start the large LED stopwatch. Still holding the cloth, he returned centre stage to stand next to the cabinet as the girl began to slowly pull and tense her body against the chains that held her so tightly.
“00:13”, “00:14”, “00:15”…
The magician watched the girl intently as the first fifteen seconds passed with no real signs of a struggle from inside the water filled Perspex box. Then, with a flourish, he moved in front of the cabinet and held up the cloth, positioning himself so as to completely block the audience’s view of the girl’s escape. Although I’d expected some or all of the act to be concealed from view for dramatic effect, I felt a twinge of disappointment that I wasn’t going to be able to see the escape attempt in full view. This did nothing to lessen my suspicions that there must be some sort of trick involved but I was intrigued to know what exactly was going on behind that makeshift screen.
“00:28”, “00:29”, “00:30”…
I glanced at my watch. I had remembered reading somewhere once that some other underwater escape act had fooled its audiences and enhanced the general sense of peril by speeding up the stopwatch making it seem as though the escapee was underwater longer than was actually the case. That act had relied on the hope that an audience wouldn’t bother to look at their own watches in a dimly lit auditorium when there was a big red stopwatch on stage. My watch, however, confirmed that the stopwatch being used for this act was reading perfectly accurately and that the first half minute had indeed passed.
“00:58”, “00:59”, “01:00”…
As the LED clock counted past the minute mark, I was conscious that the girl’s breath hold was now going beyond the limit of what most normal people - especially me - could manage. I was equally conscious that those normal people would also not be trying to hold their breath while facing the added stress of having to struggle against numerous chains and padlocks. It was at this point that it seemed to me as though her challenge was really beginning and the sense of nervousness for her situation that I had experienced earlier started to return.
This was tempered, however, by my continuing scepticism about the level of danger she was really facing. If this act was nothing more than a glorified trick then it was entirely possible that she was no longer even inside the box. I didn’t know what to think and the mystery continued as the only activity on stage was the “magician” occasionally glancing down behind him, as if to check on the activity in the cabinet, before returning to grinning cheesily at me and then more generally to the empty room.
“01:28”, “01:29”, “01:30”…
I was watching the stopwatch as it counted past the minute and a half mark, growing ever curious to know what was going on behind the cloth, when the “magician”, without warning, suddenly whipped it away.
I fully expected to see the girl out of the box, holding a handful of chains and padlocks aloft as she came forward to receive her applause. However, to my surprise, nothing could have been further from the truth. Despite all the time she had already been underwater, I was astonished to see that the girl still remained tightly bound and chained down inside the Perspex box. The box itself continued to be totally immersed with the padlocks on the lid clasps still in place, exactly as the stagehands had deposited it on the bottom of the tank.
Her body was also still contorted into the same Yoga pose, with her ankles chained together squarely behind her neck and her legs held to the sides of her body by the chains across her back just as before. Her leg chains were still also anchored down to the interior of the box just as they had been before she was immersed.
However, to my astonishment, what she had managed to achieve in all this time underwater was to somehow bring her arms in front of her body from where they had previously been tightly pulled up and chained behind her back. And she had managed to do it with her wrists still chained together.
How has she done that? Her back is so straight and her wrists are still bound! I thought to myself over and over.
As she remained apparently oblivious to the fact she was now visible to the “audience”, her face maintained the same relaxed expression she had worn throughout her preparation but she was clearly concentrating on freeing herself from the chains around her wrists.
“01:43”, “01:44”, “01:45”…
For the next fifteen seconds or so, the “magician” allowed the “audience” to continue to watch the girl struggling dramatically to free her hands. Her hair floated around in the water about her face as she pulled and twisted at the chains and padlocks with little apparent success. Eventually, the girl’s privacy was restored as the “magician” brought the cloth back in front of the cabinet and the “audience” was returned to a state of suspense.
“01:58”, “01:59”, “02:00”…
As I watched the stopwatch tick ceaselessly past the two minute mark, my immediate thoughts were focussed on how she could have possibly managed to bring her arms in front of her body while her wrists were still clearly chained together. I struggled to understand how she could have conceivably brought her arms down from so far up behind her back, forward under her hips, to the front of her body when she was still so tightly bound in the Yoga pose that was forcing her to keep her back straight. It seemed to be made even more impossible by the fact that she was also still chained down to the bottom of the Perspex box preventing her from changing her position in any way.
“02:28”, “02:29”, “02:30”…
It had now been two and a half minutes since she had been placed at the bottom of the tank and I started to think that she must surely appear from behind the cloth some time soon, her escape successfully complete. However, the time continued to tick by with no obvious activity on the stage and I nervously checked my watch to verify the LED stopwatch was still showing the correct time elapsed.
I kept a partial eye on the “magician” who was still filling time with the same cheesy grin, expecting him at any moment to whip the cloth away again. My thoughts turned to how much longer she could possibly continue to hold her breath, assuming she was still in the box.
“02:43”, “02:44”, “02:45”…
My curiosity as to her whereabouts were unexpectedly answered when, as two and three quarter minutes had passed, the “magician” glanced down behind him then flamboyantly whipped the cloth away.
I was shocked to see that the girl was still inside the Perspex box. The box remained locked shut and totally immersed on the bottom of the water filled cabinet. Unbelievably, she had been holding her breath now for almost three minutes and yet she was still far from completing her escape.
Her hands were now free and, since the last time she had been revealed to the “audience”, she had evidently devoted her energies to somehow freeing her ankles from the chains that held them behind her neck. I could see the two sets of wrist and ankle chains lying in the bottom of the Perspex box, still bearing their original padlocks.
Her legs were still bound to the side of her body by the ladder network of four chains going at regular intervals across her back and these chains were still attached to the inside of the box as before. This meant that, although her ankles were now free, her feet were tightly held up by the side of her head, her heels pressing on the underside of the box lid. I noticed that she looked visibly more comfortable with her confinement in the Perspex box now that her ankles were no longer pressing on the back of her neck and forcing her head forward.
Again appearing to be totally oblivious to the “audience”, her concentration now seemed to be focussed on escaping the four chains going around her legs and across her back. She had made no obvious progress with releasing herself from them and they continued to hold her in her contorted pose and the web of chains still securely attached her to the bottom of the box.
Despite the length of time she had now been under the water, I was amazed to see that all appeared calm in the box, particularly as there were so many chains and padlocks for her yet to tackle. I watched, engrossed, as she tugged in an exaggerated way on each of the padlocks still securely attaching her to the box’s interior shackles. Disappointingly, after only a few more seconds, the “magician” quickly stepped forward and once again concealed her activities behind the velvet cloth.
“02:58”, “02:59”, “03:00”…
The cloth back in place, I could only sit and anxiously watch the stopwatch tick relentless on. Although I was still struggling to understand how she had brought her arms to the front of her body with her wrists still bound, my thoughts now turned to trying to understand how she had managed to free her ankles when she still remained so tightly bound and constrained by the chains around her legs which also attached her to the interior of the box.
There is so little room in that box for her to move and her body is still contorted and held so tightly, how is she getting out of those chains? I wondered to myself repeatedly.
“03:28”, “03:29”, “03:30”…
I sat upright in my chair, expectantly awaiting the next “big reveal” and for the act to be over but the only activity on stage continued to be the “magician” holding the cloth aloft. His outwardly calm demeanour also suggested that the girl was not about to appear any time soon.
Each time the cloth had been pulled away to reveal the girl’s continued confinement, I found that my scepticism about this act just being a trick increasingly diminished. I was becoming more and more convinced that there were no trap doors, hidden air pockets, concealed keys or any other clever illusory device and that this really was a genuine escape attempt. I knew that this left me with a growing sense of anxiety about the difficulties the girl was battling.
“03:58”, “03:59”, “04:00”…
There was still no activity from behind the curtain.
Surely she can’t still be in the box? It’s been four minutes, how can she possibly be holding her breath for this long? I thought to myself.
My eyes flicked constantly back and forth from the stopwatch to the cloth screen as the clock advanced relentlessly onwards. I realised that my heart was actually picking up pace from a combination of excitement and genuine concern for the girl’s welfare. I also noticed how the “magician’s” cheesy grin would occasionally slip when he turned to glance down behind him.
What is going on behind that curtain? Surely she can’t still be in the box? I asked myself over and over.
I sat uneasily in my chair, convinced that at any moment the girl would be revealed, standing free of the box, wet and out of breath but safe, but no matter how much I tried to will the girl to appear, the cloth remained in place and the stopwatch ticked on.
“04:13”, “04:14”, “04:15”…
Suddenly, after glancing down behind him, the “magician” extravagantly threw the cloth to the back of the stage and my excitement increased as I realised that meant the “audience” were going to be allowed to see the act in full view to its conclusion.
I leant forward in my seat, utterly incredulous at the situation that was presented before me. The girl had been holding her breath for well over four minutes now and yet, unbelievably, she still had to escape from inside the submerged Perspex box. This remained securely locked shut, the two combination padlocks still hanging from the lid’s external metal clasps.
She had somehow freed herself completely from all of the chains which had allowed her to change her position slightly so that she was now lying over on her right side giving her room to push her right hand out through one of the box’s side holes. Amazingly, she appeared to be maintaining her calm composure as she concentrated on manipulating the dial on the first of the two external combination padlocks.
I saw how the network of leg chains that had previously held her legs tight up against the side of her body forcing her to hold her Yoga pose now lay underneath her on the bottom of the box. What puzzled me most was that all the padlocks were still in place and the chains were still attached to the interior shackles, just as she had been originally bound. It was as if she’d simply slipped her legs out of them.
How has she possibly got her legs out of those chains without undoing any of the padlocks? There just isn’t room in that box! I thought to myself as I continued to watch, fascinated, as she twisted the padlock dial to and fro.
“04:23”, “04:24”, “04:25”…
I watched as the padlock finally clicked open and she negotiated the shackle free of the clasp, letting the lock drop to the bottom of the tank. Before withdrawing her hand from the hole she took a few moments to manoeuver the metal clasp open, pushing it up and over onto the Perspex box’s lid.
She then adjusted her position again slightly before turning her attention to the remaining external padlock, the only thing now standing between her and her first breath in over four and a half minutes.
“04:38”, “04:39”, “04:40”…
At one point the girl had to stop momentarily to sweep her hair from where it had floated in front of her face but otherwise, incredibly, her composure appeared to remain completely focussed as she carefully fiddled with this second dial.
How can she possibly still be underwater after all this time? How can she look so calm? I thought as I could feel myself willing her to free this last padlock, my heart now racing with nervous anticipation.
I breathed an audible sigh of relief when, eventually, I saw this second lock spring open. She quickly twisted it from the clasp, allowing it to drop to the bottom of the tank, before releasing the metal clasp to finally free the box lid.
Almost five minutes. My eyes flicked to the stage stopwatch as she altered her position again to lie on her back so that she could push the lid open against the pressure of the water above it. Within a few seconds, that felt more like minutes, the box lid was sufficiently open for her to get her upper body through and her head finally lifted above the surface of the water. The girl held this position for a few moments, calmly taking a few deep breaths, before physically pushing the box lid fully open and standing up properly in the tank.
The “magician” had moved over to the LED stopwatch to stop the counter the moment her head broke the surface. He returned to the cabinet and offered his hand to assist her as she climbed out of the water. Accompanying her to the front and centre of the stage, he held her hand high and presented her to the “audience”.
Incredibly, the stopwatch recorded a time of “04:53”. She had somehow managed to stay underwater, surviving on the same breath, for a few seconds short of five minutes. I watched spellbound as she stood before me on stage with a huge smile on her face, breathing heavily but not appearing to be unduly stressed or uncomfortable. I was so disbelieving of what she had just achieved that it took me a few moments before I remembered it was up to me - and me alone - to do the applauding. She looked directly at me for the first time throughout the whole act as I, without thinking, rose to my feet and clapped as loudly as I could manage.
One of the stagehands quietly came on stage behind her with a white towelling robe into which she slipped her arms and then casually wrapped around herself. The other stagehand arrived to pick up the cabinet lid and the screening cloth from the rear of the stage before placing them down on top of the water filled cabinet and wheeling it all from the stage. The first stagehand collected the stopwatch pedestal as well as the table containing the wooden box before he too disappeared behind the side curtain.
With the stage cleared, I continued to applaud as both the girl and the “magician” finally executed a deep bow and turned to leave. All now empty and quiet, the lights slowly dimmed and I realised that it was probably time to stop clapping.
I returned to my seat and noticed that, having been so distracted by the growing tension of that last act, I had barely touched my beer. I now sipped on it slowly as I looked around me at the empty auditorium and tried to imagine what the atmosphere would have been like if the place had been full.
I felt my heart rate begin to return to normal as I tried to make sense of what I had just witnessed. I knew it wasn’t just a trick, I was convinced of that now. There were no hidden air pockets in the box for her to catch a quick breath, the box had completely filled with water when it was first immersed and it had remained totally submerged throughout her escape.
There was also no way she could have taken the external padlocks off to get her head above the water at any point during the act. It was clear that the padlocks could only be applied from the outside; once removed she would have been unable to put them back from inside the box. What was also obvious was that she had spent most of her first four minutes chained to the bottom of the box and would have been unable to lift her head high enough to clear the surface even if she had succeeded in prematurely opening the box lid.
I could only conclude that the girl really had performed the seemingly impossible physical feat of holding her breath for almost five minutes. What made it all the more incredible for me was that, during all that time underwater, she would hardly have been passive as she struggled to escape her chains.
What puzzled me about the performance, though, was how she had managed to escape all of those chains in the way she did. I saw first hand from my inspecting role on stage just how tightly she had been bound and secured to the inside of the box by all of those chains as well as how her body had also been contorted by her Yoga pose.
Unanswered questions raced around my head. How did she get her arms to the front of her body when her wrists were still bound and her back was held so straight by her Yoga pose? How did she manage to get her ankles free of the chains that held her feet so tightly behind her neck when her legs were still chained to the side of her contorted body and to the inside of the Perspex box? How could she possibly have slipped out of the chains that held her legs so securely up against the side of her body as well as attaching her so firmly to the bottom of the box?
It was clear that she hadn’t used any concealed keys to free herself because the chains were left for all to see, lying in the bottom of the Perspex box with all of the padlocks still in place just as they had been originally fastened. The chains that had attached her to the interior shackles of the box were also still in place fastened just as I had seen them when she had been originally bound there. It was as if she had simply shed them like a second skin. But how? Her body had been contorted in a way that looked so restrictive for her and the box itself was small enough that she had so little room to move.
I was still sitting in my seat lost in thought when one of the bar staff arrived at my table and politely asked me to finish my drink as the theatre would soon be closing. I drained my glass and rose to leave, still trying to work out how the girl had managed such an incredible escape. I then realised that the act had achieved exactly what every good illusion should: to leave the “audience” wondering how they did it!