Month: August 2014

COLIN CLOUD: THE FORENSIC MIND READER

☆☆☆☆☆

Any act that incorporates Sherlock Holmes will always have my automatic affection. But the effortless ease with which Mr Cloud incorporated his fascination with the character is spectacular on it’s own merits.

One challenge of the Fringe is that which room you are in definitely sets the tone for your show. And some of the Fringe venues are a little bit shoddy, or even nice but unintended for the purposes they’re now being used for. I got that impression off the Just the Tonic room that Mr Cloud’s show was in. However, his minor additions manged both to blend with the initial surroundings and, for lack of a better phrase, “class the place up a bit.” The tightly packed audience (sold out!) combined with the backdrop, gave off the sensation that you could, in fact, have been transported back to the Victorian era, and found yourself in the fictional detective’s sitting room- both dubious but undeniably curious at what secrets you were wearing in your facial expressions that he would see right through to.

And as if straight from the pages of one of these stories, Mr Cloud delivered his astonishing skill. The audience was repeatedly stunned at the ability he had to seemingly pick thoughts right out of his participants heads- the word from a favorite childhood book, a random number they had only then decided upon themselves, an image chosen from countless possibilities recreated right in front of their eyes. All done with a practiced air of charm and just a little bit of impatient disdain for participants who had trouble following simple directions. After all, nothing could be more Sherlockian. His showmanship was thoroughly on point, softening the adopted affect of superior wisdom by sharing his audience’s enthusiasm.

For a tone so steeped in the air of mystery, Mr Cloud does not pretend to be psychic. Rather, he is upfront about the psychological background of the techniques he uses. He perhaps leaves out mentions of old-school mentalist trickery employed, but we are all here to be entertained. There is a certain thrill to being left bewildered, and Mr Cloud knows where to draw the line between explaining how he’s reading participants lies and leaving bits up the the audience’s baffled imaginations. The combination between his skill at mentalism and his clever wit and showmanship make The Forensic Mind Reader a brilliant and utterly enjoyable experience.

The last three days of Colin Cloud’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe run at Just the Tonic are currently completely sold out, but you may be able to snatch up returns a couple hours before the performances at 5:55pm.

 

More information on Colin Cloud and his performance dates can be found here

ALEX THE MIND READER

☆☆☆☆

(It is so inherently frustrating to my sense of order that this magician didn’t use a colon in his show title like almost literally everyone else does that I want to add one in for the title of this review anyway. Alex: The Mind Reader. Or, alternatively, Alex: the Impressively Adept at Dealing With Claustrophobic Environments).

Picture a mentalist in your mind. Unless your expectation has been tainted with the visage of Derren Brown or perhaps Simon Baker, you probably will summon up an image at least a little like Alex. Dashing in a dramatic mustache, I would have known the man walking past our queue was the mind reader even if he hadn’t put his face on the flyers.

The start of the show was a bit slow, people shuffling into their places in the compact little room, and then filling out the little slips of information that Alex would attempt to glean from us. But everyone was excited right from the start, and that was a really positive way to start a show.

And straight from the start, Alex amazed. He received gasps and applause from his apparent ability to read faces and minds and even pass his ability onto unsuspecting audience members. But one of the best elements tying the entire act together was his wit. Alex thoroughly commanded the room, despite obvious discomfort of the overwarm venue.

Alex the Mind Reader is a genuinely brilliant show, and I think Alex could easily have filled a much larger theater. But he certainty didn’t let the small size diminish the sense of wonder that his show created.

You can see Alex the Mind Reader at 1:30pm at Laughing Horse @ The Counting House on August 21st and 22nd.  

+Extra note- So, after I saw this show I decided I had to drag my friend along for the performance the next day. We were there half an hour and started a queue of people before I realized it wasn’t even on that day. We were so embarrassed we ran off without mentioning this to the other people who had lined up- on my recommendation of the show #sorrynotsorry

 

 

More information on Alex McAleer and his performance dates can be found here

NEIL HENRY’S IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Note to all magicians: if you do a joke trick with a fake bunny at the beginning of your set, don’t leave it on stage. People will be distracted the entire time wondering if that bunny is going to become switched for a real one. Gotta say I’m a little disappointed.

Bunnies aside, Neil Henry presented an excellent show. His tricks were magic classics, but done with such skill and ease that even someone looking in all the right places wouldn’t see how they were being fooled. Even when presented with the challenge of easily confused audience participants, Mr Henry maintained his funny patter and kept his crowd laughing.

A particularly great moment of the show was the finale, at which point Mr Henry created legitimate concern and tension with his crowning act. Even though audiences who come to magic shows generally know that the magician has their show under control and probably won’t be harmed, Mr Henry’s last trick had people looking away and wincing- but definitely peeking through their hands.

This skillful control of the atmosphere showed the masterful showmanship Mr Henry had created even with his somewhat goofy persona, and certainty had audience members hissing ‘impossible’ afterwards as they squinted and poked at the cards onstage.

Neil Henry’s Impossible is on at Pleasance Courtyard at 3:50pm until August 25th.

RENZ NOVANI: SPELLBINDER- MAGIC AND MYSTORY

☆☆☆☆

I’m not a mentalist (yet?) but when I sat down at the beginning of Renz Novani’s show, I made a prediction. That prediction was that for his review I would be writing: “well, maybe Renz Novani is a good magician, but I can’t tell because I can’t see a goddamned thing except for the hair of the lady in front of me.” But like I said, I’m not a mentalist.

The room was tiny. Everyone was squashed together, and the rows of seats were only at two levels. The “stage” started right where the “audience” stopped, and it was tiny itself. But what could have been suffocating actually worked for the show.

Mr Novani’s affect was flawless for the space, and for his material. He didn’t try to be overtly theatrical, a choice that by making him seem bigger would have made the space feel even smaller. Instead, his show was like a conversation. We were visitors at Mr Novani’s, and he a kind host. And like any good host, he exuded sincerity, and seemed to connect deeply with his audience.

I’ve mentioned earlier that I as a rule don’t go onstage or interact in the acts I see. Well, I broke that rule last night. I didn’t plan on it, but the room was so small, I couldn’t exactly hide. And when I was picked, I just went with it. I was initially worried that my preexisting obsession with mentalism and fascination with the exact things he was doing would mess the show up because I was thinking so much, so I guess it’s a blessing that when I’m in front of crowds I lose the ability to think. I won’t go into too much detail about the trick itself, but all I can say is that I was amazed by his talent. At so many points I was tiny slivers of a whim away from making wholly different choices, and yet the trick worked- the prediction that Mr Novani had secured, earlier, with another audience member, was right. Because of choices that I made and numbers that the audience picked.This ability wasn’t limited to but one trick, either. He again and again left members of the audience dumbfounded with his mentalist ability and readings of their deepest wishes.

He genuinely had astonishing talent, and at the same time expertly presented his material in a manner that made a grim little room cozy and captivating. Combined with a brilliant finish, Mr Novani’s show really does leave you feeling weightless.

Renz Novani’s Fringe show is at Spotlights at Merchants Hall, at 8:40 pm until August 25th.

+Reviewer’s note: I left this show a little stunned, and not just because of residual nervous energy from being onstage. Of all the magicians that I’ve seen as of late, his particular talents were exactly everything I’ve ever wanted to study, understand, be. The beautiful mixture of clever tricks, calming but firm stage presence, and a deep understanding of and ability to work with human psychology is exactly what captivated me about this world in the first place. His ability to imbibe it with a sense of enchantment struck me on a deeply personal level. Also, I want to steal all his books.

 

 

More information on Renz Novani and his performance dates can be found here

BEN HART: THE VANISHING BOY

☆☆☆☆☆

It was magic like poetry. Not the script necessarily, not specifically, but how the storytelling interwove with the tricks. A “plot”, for lack of a better word, is always good in a magic show, but this was beautiful. Mr Hart did magic tricks, of course, but he didn’t make it a magic show in the sense you would expect. It was theatre, not theatricality. He turned tricks into something you can actually, temporarily let yourself believe is truly supernatural, and it was spellbinding.

The tale we were to follow is a mystery, harkening back to olden times, to days of magic past. A juxtaposition of his modern self and something form the depths of the century. Despite his young age, Mr Hart radiated a kind of wisdom when he settled into his storytelling reverie, lulling the audience into willingly suspending their disbelief, letting them hear the drip of phantom rain and the bewilderment of an unexpected, strange visitor at your door.

But it’s the 21st fucking century, folks. We’ve seen magic tricks, we know them well. We squint for hidden wires and when a twenty-something (I’m assuming?) beguiles us with dark tales, a little bit of our minds will stay modern despite, modern and skeptical. And he knows that. So when it’s been going a little too long, maybe, when you can’t stay under the comfortable romantic lull for much longer, he whips the act back, to silly, borderline risque (but covertly enough that he needn’t worry about kids in the audience) jokes, and to unexpectedly funny tricks.

And his tricks are beautiful as well. Falling naturally and elegantly within the narrative, he does confounding magic. At one point, he took a magic standard that I’ve seen countless times before, and changes it, in such a way that it invalidated everything I know about how the original is done in the first place.

But the truth of Ben Hart’s show is not the trickery, but the presentation. It is acts like this that make you remember why magic is so powerful in the first place. If you go to a lot of different magic acts- as one can easily do, as I am, here at the Edinburgh Fringe- you might forget that sense of awe in the attempt to deconstruct, to figure it all out. But it’s so important not to. Of course that desire will still stay, of course as you walk out and shake Mr Hart’s hand (can I just say I love performers who stick around to greet their audience after) and tell him how magnificent he was and wander off, your mind will be twisting and mulling and trying to work it out. But at the same time, and more importantly, you will be brilliantly and blissfully astounded and bewitched.

Ben Hart is performing at Underbelly Cowgate at 4:40pm until August 24th. Seriously, go see him.

+Extra point: It is about 40 minutes since I got out of the show. I literally had to write this all immediately, because the experience was so fantastic. Thank you for the ‘bloody’ tissue by the way, Mr Hart.

ALAN HUDSON: TRICK TEASER

☆☆☆

‘No secrets’ could be the tagline for this show. Considering the ‘mystery’ appeal that most magicians will make their living on, this is a bit out of the ordinary. Alan Hudson’s show is pure silly, happy, humble magic, and he doesn’t pretend to be anything more than exactly what he is.

And what he is is spelled out right on his flyer: a comic with a feel-good magic show. But it works because he does it well. He’s working in a small venue here at the Fringe, where he stands at the same level as the audience, only a few feet from them. No room for frills or secrets, it’s just you and the magician- and Mr Hudson is a funny, friendly guy. He manages to make his audience like him nearly immediately, with jokes that hint of self deprecation, stupid dancing, and purposefully see-through magic.

This is all particularly notable on the night when I went. Mr Hudson messed up a trick in a way he couldn’t salvage in the moment. But perhaps with the exception of the woman whose wedding ring was now missing, he still had the audience on his side. The attitude was of willingness to gloss past the problem, not to blame him for messing it up.

Perhaps not the guy to see if you want to be utterly astounded, but if you want to see some cool tricks and genuinely laugh for nearly an hour straight, Alan Hudson is the right choice.

Alan Hudson‘s Edinburgh Festival Fringe show is on at Gilded Balloon at 19:45 until August 25th (not on the 13th).

PAUL DABEK: LIAR LIAR

I’m the kind of critic you want at your show. I’m inclined to see the best in an act, and I come to shows willing to be amazed, not with my asshole hat on. That being said-

Mr Dabek’s flyer says he ‘weaves a web of comedy, magic, and lies.’ I didn’t realize his claim of comedy and magic was the lie. He started his show off with his enthusiasm and flair, flicking cards around and peacocking all around the stage. A valid and exciting start to the show, but it went rapidly downhill from there.

I don’t want to make this review all about his showmanship (although I do love critiquing showmanship) but that is the only thing there was to observe. He did no actual magic, so I can’t assess any skill in that. And I didn’t notice any comedy either, aside from a validly amusing NHS joke that a lot of comedians would have skipped on the grounds of being to easy.

So, showmanship it is. He was terrible. Paul mistook ‘loud’ to mean ‘funny’ and instead of ‘flirting with the audience’ went for ‘skeeving on the audience’. Sometimes he took a break from jumping around and shouting to be actually, overtly offensive. He indulged in some moderate racism- oh I’m sorry, xenophobia. Then, upon bringing a girl onstage, became rudely dismissive of her upon learning she had a girlfriend.

Mr Dabek has the right inherent enthusiasm, but he needs to get some skills- and a new personality.

But feel free to disagree with me! Paul Dabek is on at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the Jam House on August 11, 13, 15-18, 20-22 at 21:30.