Being a magician means meeting a lot of people. I think on average there is probably 100 people at an event and my job is to talk to every single one of them. If I had a pound, or even a penny for every time a man tried to make some sort of joke about sawing their wife in half, I would be a very wealthy man!
It’s crazy how everyone seems to associate this one illusion with a magician when in reality none of them has ever seen a magician saw someone in half. Nowadays it’s quite a dated and old fashioned trick. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take a look at some versions that stand out, good and bad.
Sawing a person in half is a very simple plot. A magician will take an assistant (usually female) and place them inside some sort of box. Then he’ll proceed to pass a blade or saw through them. There are a number of different variations, sometimes where they’ll then show that they’re in two pieces and have their head and feet still visible.
History of sawing a woman in half
The idea of dividing someone or something in half and then restoring it has been around for a long, long time. In fact, in a way, it’s literally the oldest trick in the book. In the video below you’ll learn about Dedi, an Egyptian magician who would decapitate a goose and then restore its head.
Below is a video from Q.I where you’ll see ex-president of the Magic Circle Scott Penrose performing a trick where he takes the head off a bird and then restores it.
It wasn’t until a lot later that sawing a person in half become a thing with Robert Houdin writing about seeing a magician named Torrini who may have been the first person to perform the illusion of sawing a person in half. In the 1920s British magician, Percy T. Selbit began performing his version which made it very popular. He would have audience members tie ropes to his female assistant’s wrists and ankles before putting her in a box and then pushing metal and glass sheets through the box before sawing it in half. To read more about the history and some of the legal battles of this trick check out this post here.
Since then it’s been a staple of all stage magicians, let’s take a look at some of the different versions with a few of my favourites.
A good example of this classic trick is fellow British magician Jamie Allen. You can see it is a very deceptive illusion as it really looks like she’s been split in two!
The Zig Zag
There are a number of different variations of this trick one of them is this where a woman appears to be cut in thirds. It’s a very deceptive illusion as you still see her head, hands and feet.
Penn And Teller
My favourite performance of sawing a woman in half probably ever. I think after this everyone can stop doing the trick altogether, you won’t get any better than this. Make sure you watch until the end.
Now I know I just said you can’t get any better than Penn and Teller’s version above (how good is that end bit by the end) this one comes very close! I managed to see Kevin James perform this illusion live last year and WOW it was good. So unexpected and a nice twist on this classic.
And finally, a version that to be honest, I think is pretty poor. Is it me or is it so over the top that it becomes a joke. I’m not a fan of when magicians take a trick too far. I’ve always thought that when a magician flies or walks on water, it’s a step too far and becomes a bit obvious how it’s done. The best tricks are when it’s right on the line of impossible but with a glimmer of possibility. I’ll write a post about it another time.
Do you have any other versions that you like of the sawing a person in half illusion that I’ve missed out?