Long gone are the days of audiences at magic shows being impressed with rabbits being pulled out of hats, or women being sawn in half. Today's cynical crowd wants something altogether a bit more sophisticated and leading the ranks are magicians such as Derren Brown, David Blaine and Dynamo (perhaps there is something magical about the letter D).

Bucks-based magician Ian Souch, who is a member of the elite Magic Circle and will soon be taking his exams for the even more exclusive Inner Magic Circle, may not come with a camera crew like his celebrity associates, but his act is every bit as impressive and mind-boggling.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to see him at work one balmy summer evening, when he popped over to a friend's house to entertain a group of us as we scoffed down mountains of BBQ food.

Ian describes himself as a close-up professional magician and psychological illusionist, or mentalist. We were not sure what to expect and with a small, intimate crowd of eight I was worried it might be a bit too close for comfort.

However, as soon as Ian opened up his trusty briefcase of tricks and turned on the showmanship, we quickly realised this was not going to be your kids' birthday party fodder and we gave in to the magic!

We oohhed and aghhed on cue as he somehow altered the faces of the cards and magically transported them from one place to another before our very eyes without lifting a finger. One card, which had been signed by a willing helper, even ended up in his shoe at one point.

But it was the mental mind games that really had us puzzled and were rewarded with the biggest claps and appreciative noises. During the 30 minutes or so he played with our minds, we gasped and gawped as he made startling predictions about the decisions we would make and accurately guessed what we were thinking.

During one illusion, one of the girls started to squirm and apologise for thinking of a particularly obscure pet's name which she had written on a piece of paper and sealed in an envelope. "I'm sorry, I think I've mucked it up for you," she kept protesting. Ever the performer, Ian played up to her protests as he looked into her eyes and tried to concentrate on her word before writing his answer on his own pad while dramatically shaking his head.

However, his self-doubt was short lived and our blushes were spared. When the evidence was taken out of the envelope and the pad turned over, the name Barry was revealed on both to be greeted by a stunned silence followed by unbelieving giggles.

This prompted Ian to joke (but quite rightly none-the-less): "See, who needs Derren Brown?"

After the performance, there was one burning question: How did he do it? But any hopes we had of finding out Ian's secrets were quickly quashed when he told us what he thought of magicians who reveal the tricks of the trade.

"It's terribly wrong and I discourage people from watching show like The Masked Magician which expose secrets. The reason magic has survived so long is we are secretive.

"You get different types of people. There are those that just want to be entertained, and another group that want to know how you did it. They get quite angry if you don't tell them."

Ian's love of magic started as a child when he was growing up in South Africa, but it was not until he was studying at university that he was given a chance to perform for an audience.

He explains: "As a kid I had a gimmick pack of cards, as a lot of kids. But I never lost the interest. I didn't do anything for years and years because I was too embarrassed and then I saw my professor doing some magic for his students, and I said, Oh, I'll show you something'. And he was like, Whoa, you are doing our next graduation'.

"I'm a shy person and I really didn't want to it. There were 200 people sitting at tables, all students and teachers, but that was exactly the kick up the bum I needed to go and do it. It's quite scary when you start off. You make mistakes, you do silly things, but that's how you learn."

Now Ian has developed what was once a hobby into his full-time career and he entertains guests at weddings, restaurants, corporate events, private parties, birthdays, Christmas dos, and, seemingly, BBQs.

Speaking about his particular style of magic, he explains: "A lot of people shy away from mentalism because it's a personal thing and if you are a giggly type of person it's not going to work for you, but also it requires quite a lot of psychology and a lot of memory work. So it's quite hard, but I think it's the most impressive. For me, adding that mental twist to it is quite interesting.

"I mix it, but some people are purist - Derren Brown has decided to stick to mentalism. Nobody probably knows this, but he is actually a phenomenal card magician.

"I love the close up stuff as well, so I combine the two in my act. I think people always expect that if you are a magician. They say, Where are the cards?' So I do a bit of both, cards, coins, you name it, anything."

His show may be over, but Ian never switches off, and even though he is trying to eat his hamburger while answering questions from eight intrigued spectators, he still manages to entertain us by flipping out a retractable wand.

It may be a small trick but even these take time to perfect, as Ian explains: "It's a lot of practise. I kid you not, I mean hours every day. I've given up guitar and all sort of things because I need to focus. And do you know what the hardest trick was? The little pen manipulation affect which has the pen appearing and disappearing. I have got mates who have been trying to learn that for years."

While the pen trick can be put down to fast hands, the mentalism was still troubling me on the drive home. Trying to make sense of what I had witnessed, I switched on the radio to hear Freddie Mercury singing A Kind of Magic as part of a magic-themed show. Maybe it is time to start believing!

For more information, see www.mentalmagicman.co.uk or call 07984 937415 or 01628 891992