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Illusions Of Grandeur

29 August 2012 | 6:00 am | Simon Eales

Old-worldy double act Enzo Ficco – aka Al Cappuccino – and Nicole Gregurek work their magic on Simon Eales ahead of their Gangsters’ Ball appearance.

Enzo Ficco and Nicole Gregurek are a mesmerising pair. The former is the nephew of a famous 1950s Italian magician, and the latter is an actress – half Swedish, half Croatian – who seems cut straight from Hollywood in the 1940s. They are magician and sidekick (of sorts), and they'll be performing their speakeasy-themed magic/theatre piece, A Journey Back In Time, as part of Graham Coupland's yearly vaudeville extravaganza, The Gangsters' Ball, at the Forum on Saturday 8 September.

Ficco, who has performed since the early 1980s as machine-gun toting gangster Al Cappuccino, brings Gregurek to his previously silent routine to add beauty, comedy and words. “I knew about theatre and Enzo knew about magic,” the Judy Garland-esque Gregurek says. “When we got together, Enzo had never done a speaking role before. As an actress, you're taught that silence is so meaningful and it's so difficult to do it right. What he struggled with was talking!”

For the pair, “it's all about the story,” Gregurek says. “That's where the real magic happens… We like to think we are drawing people into a world.”

We have coffee and tea at the Grand Hyatt. I feel like I'm being seduced. Ficco tells me they both admire old-fashioned courting rituals, like in a Fred Astaire movie, so I shouldn't be surprised. We theorise long into the afternoon; about magic, theatre, Hollywood, high-schooling, bogans, mental illness, Dada, ready-made art, surrealism, Angelina Jolie, auditioning, communism, the cultural cringe, America, and David Letterman.

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Happily buried in conversation, I didn't care to think about life outside. Maybe this is the Cappuccino effect. Was I being magicked?

Weaving a story of how he came into magic, Ficco insists that “all the magic pioneers came from Europe”. His own inspiration was his uncle, who “ran away from home at a very young age… and became an acrobat on horses. Then they toured him out and he came across an American magician while he working as a signalman on a navy ship. The guy gave him an entire trunk of magic gear…  I would love to find out who that magician was.

“I enjoyed understanding the craft of magic. I was 13 when dad took me to what they call the Magic Circle, here in Victoria, and it was basically a platform. I started performing magic with this club until two other magicians, Tim Ellis and Lyndsay Rietschel saw me, and saw the potential, and said, 'Come with me, and I'll teach you how to work with real audiences'. And that's how it developed.”

Gregurek, who explains that her character in the show is “a doorknob,” has plenty of theories on performing, from second-night “smugs” (when your performance can be flat after a successful opening night), to the “the rule of threes” in comedy which she explains through a serious of noises and hums – entirely understandable, but hard to quote. She also played a big part in writing their routine.

“When you're writing something new, to a new formula, you never know if it's going to work. It might come out like a flat cake.” She drops into character and gives me a snippet. It's impeccably timed, and funny; light, spongey, and delicious.

I walked out of the Hyatt in a slight daze. My wallet was still in my pocket, and I don't wear a wrist-watch, so I guess I survived the gangsters' smoke'n'mirror technique this time. But if you see Al Cappuccino alongside a fur-clad beauty, best stay and watch. It's magic.

See Al Cappuccino at The Gangsters' Ball on Saturday 8 September, Forum.