Aaron Calvert has chosen a timely theme for his new Fringe show, Declassified. As Calvert explains in his opening remarks, on his inauguration, Trump declassified vast archives of information about some of the United States’s quirkier Cold War era research projects. Calvert’s jokes at Trump’s expense ensure that his audience knows that he is on the right side of history. The rest of the show is framed as an exploration into these declassified archives.
An early segment of Declassified features a classic mind reading trick using several cards with a range of simple shapes. This fits neatly into the Cold War theme. The story often told alongside these props is that they were used by the CIA to study subjects’ mind reading capabilities during the Cold War, and that when the Cold War ended and these research projects were disbanded several subjects used the same cards to demonstrate their skills in magic shows. Calvert puts his own stamp on this classic by adding a hypnotist twist.
Calvert soon shifts into the more hypnotism-centric part of the show, attempting to put the entire audience into a hypnotic state in order to find the best participants for the evening. The process is pleasantly relaxing, even for those who do not reach a full hypnotic trance. A selected few of those who do make it to that state are brought onstage to demonstrate the depth of their hypnosis. Unlike the seedy hypnotist stereotype, Calvert is respectful and empathetic toward those who he has successfully hypnotized.
Here Calvert shifts from his stated theme of the recently declassified files that he discusses at the start of his show, and spends more time relating his demonstrations to modern urban legends. Cold War enthusiasts may be disappointed. However, Calvert’s interpretation of this theme is ultimately uplifting. Rather than re-create the experiments of the Cold War era, Declassified is a new experiment designed to demonstrate the same theory, that individuals are capable of extraordinary feats.
If there is a criticism to be leveled at Declassified it is precisely that, its title. The titular declassified documents feel underused, as they are hardly mentioned beyond the opening political quips. The link between the Cold War theme and the later segments of the show is muddled with Calvert’s increasing reliance on modern urban legends to bring thematic structure to his demonstrations. Declassified would perhaps be better described by a title that evokes urban legends in general rather than one evocative of such a specific aspect of history.
Declassified succeeds as an impressive display of hypnosis, and is enhanced by Calvert’s optimistic attitude toward his audience. Calvert’s style of hypnotism comes across as benevolent rather than manipulative, as he proves his power over his hypnotized participants by compelling them to perform exceptional stunts rather than pointlessly embarrassing actions, while still putting on an entertaining show for his audience. Calvert’s refreshing take on hypnosis makes Declassified well worth the visit.
Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26
More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here