Author: WMR

ROBERT TEMPLE: THE HYPNOTIST

☆☆☆☆

Hypnotists have been noticeable primarily by their absence this Fringe.  As a genre even more dependent on touching strangers than other performers, it is understandable that many may not have felt comfortable doing shows, or confident that they could get willing participants.  Robert Temple is the exception willing to take the gamble.  In the simply titled ‘The Hypnotist’, he talks us through some of the theory behind hypnosis and, of course, gives everyone in the audience the opportunity to try out being hypnotised themselves.

Like many hypnotists, Temple devotes time in the first part of his show to discussing hypnotism in theory before demonstrating it in practice.  He describes himself as a comedy hypnotist, and this is where the majority of the comedy comes in.  Future audiences may be comforted to note that he makes fun of himself far more than any of his participants, and that if he does poke fun at his audience it will be during this first part of the show, when everyone is fully awake.

Perhaps in a bid to flatter the audience on to his stage, Temple describes hypnosis as a function of creativity.  This appears to work well for him.  At the reviewed show he was working with a relatively small audience, as many performers are at this pandemic Fringe.  Given the nature of his act he made sure to warn the audience ahead of time that volunteering to take part would require some physical touch.  Nevertheless he easily filled his ten spots on stage with eager participants looking to be hypnotised.  Once they were hypnotised, the demonstrations he encourages from them tended toward silliness rather than any kind of public embarrassment.

As is always the risk, perhaps especially in a discipline such as hypnosis, something did go wrong.  In this case, one of the participants ‘woke up’ from his hypnotised state unexpectedly early, having a knock-on effect on the others on stage.  Temple dealt with this with the apparent ease of a practiced professional, calmly switching a few things around, and of course looking after his participants to smooth their exit from his show.

For those looking to be hypnotised this Fringe, Temple may be the only option.  Luckily he’s a great option.  His style of hypnosis appears to be reasonably effective on a range of individuals.  All go in with the confidence that they will feel safe on his stage, and by the time they leave they can feel confident that their trust in him was justified.

More information on Robert Temple and his performance dates can be found here.

ANDREW MCKINLAY: PERSPECTIVE

☆☆☆

The titular theme of Perspective is mentioned briefly in Andrew McKinlay’s show, but not really well explored.  This appears to be intentional and probably for the best.  At the reviewed show he certainly didn’t get much of the kind of audience who would be willing to follow along with a big theme.  There are hints of a more thoughtful kind of show that McKinlay might have put together for a different time slot, that would definitely be of interest to see at a future Fringe. 

There will always be increasing numbers of drunk people at Fringe shows as the night goes on.  In Perspective Andrew McKinlay appears to have embraced his fate, as one of the later slots at a venue with a great drinks menu, of having to deal with high numbers of drunk people in his audience.  This is what is showcased of his skill set.  And the magic is nice too, it’s a solid foundation for McKinlay to use to corral the drinkers into a reluctant audience willing to cooperate with his show. 

McKinlay uses a variety of sleight of hand and mentalist tricks throughout the set.  These are performed well enough, certainly for the composition of the audience.  The crowd was especially fond of an effect early in the show, in which McKinlay invites a range of participants on to the stage to draw a face, after which he attempts to match the drawing to the individual who drew it.  It is perhaps indicative of the evening that the participants’ antics drew more of a reaction from the audience than McKinlay’s successful completion of the effect. 

As will be evident from the preceding paragraphs of this review, McKinlay faced a challenging audience at the reviewed show – weirdly drunk for a Tuesday evening and entirely unafraid to heckle frequently.  McKinlay handled them like the professional that he is.  It was actually difficult to gauge how disruptive the audience was while sitting in the show, as McKinley was so adept at responding to them and redirecting the audience’s attention that the progress of the show flowed smoothly around the many interruptions.  It is in hindsight that it is clear how hard he was working to make his show look so effortless. 

Perspective may not change the audience’s perspective of much.  But McKinlay knows what he’s dealing with and delivers a solid magic show, to amaze even the most drunk of Fringe-goers regardless of whether they want to be amazed or not. 

More information on Andrew McKinlay and his performance dates can be found here.

DAVE ALNWICK: EXCEPTIONAL MAGIC & SUPER CHILL MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

At an Edinburgh Fringe where many familiar magicians are absent or performing limited runs, Dave Alnwick is back for full Fringe long of three to five shows a day.  By numbers alone, he accounts for exactly one third of the magic listings on the PBH Free Fringe website this year.  His two daytime shows, Super Chill Magic and Exceptional Magic, are intentionally very similar to accommodate his many fans, which is why they are both best addressed in this one review. 

The household name status that Alnwick has achieved at the Fringe makes the audience experience at his shows extra special.  People who manage to secure spots at the fronts of his queues have the camaraderie of successful pilgrims, holding spots in the queue for strangers who have urgent errands and exchanging phone numbers so those who remain can immediately update the errand-runner if anything changes.  The hype might sound excessive but as soon as the show starts, Alnwick proves that he’s earned it. 

Both Super Chill and Exceptional Magic have a bit of sleight of hand but rely more heavily on mentalism, Alnwick’s specialty.  Everything is performed flawlessly, as his audiences have learned they can expect.  A card trick that he performs with two audience participants in each show is a particular highlight, with Alnwick leaving his deck of cards in the participants’ hands for the majority of the effect.  In the talent-scouting portion of the reviewed Super Chill Magic, Alnwick found an excellent participant who briefly stole the show, and would not be out of place on his own stage, perhaps at next year’s Fringe.  Choosing participants who will best enhance the show is a skill in itself, and one that Alnwick has clearly mastered over his long career. 

Super Chill and Exceptional Magic are well timed to accommodate Alnwick’s variety of fans.  Super Chill Magic is in the early afternoon, earlier than most shows, for the Fringe tourists to kick off a busy day of show-hopping.  Exceptional Magic, on the other hand, is just about late enough for locals to pop in after a day in the office, and to catch those unwilling to get out of bed in time for Super Chill Magic.  Both Alnwick and this reviewer agree that attendance at both is not necessary for any but the most devout of his followers.  Either one is sufficient to re-cement the legend of Alnwick in the Fringe collective consciousness for another year. 

More information on Dave Alnwick and his performance dates can be found here.

CHRIS CROSS: A PANDEMONIUM OF PARLOUR TRICKS IN A PANDEMIC

☆☆☆☆☆

For those of us who haven’t heard of or seen him before, it is too easy to underestimate Chris Cross.  From the wacky name and monogrammed belt buckle, the aggressively arranged alliteration of his 2021 show title A Pandemonium of Parlour Magic in a Pandemic, to the line in his show description advising “NOT for the easily offended”, it’s easy to assume that he must be overcompensating for something.  Fortunately for his audience this is absolutely not the case.  Cross brings the magic to back up the swagger of his over the top character in a funny and interesting performance. 

Perhaps more impressive than any of the magic is how skillfully Cross manages to playfully poke fun at the audience without coming across as a bully.  It’s a tough thing to balance, if the many performers who are unable to do so are any indication, and Cross makes it look easy.  Of course in magic shows the audience is generally called upon to take a more active role, and Cross’s participants on the evening of this review were well chosen.  A cadre of Canadian students in particular rose to the occasion to perfectly match Cross’s energy on stage and enhance the show with their participation. 

Magicians often claim that they’ll show the audience tricks that they’ve never seen before, but his claim typically leaves those who have seen many magic shows feeling disappointed.  Cross, on the other hand, genuinely follows through with a series of tricks that this reviewer at least hasn’t seen before (and we at World Magic Review have seen a fair share of tricks).  This part of the show that is a bit of a history lesson is exceptionally fun to watch.  Cross’s enthusiasm for these weird old tricks that have long since fallen out of fashion breathes new life into the old props.  His style seamlessly blends the more standard card and escapist material with the tour of historic props, in a one man demonstration of the range and development of magical performance. 

Cross’s Pandemonium of Magic is a necessary stop at this year’s Fringe for anyone who has ever considered themselves to be a fan of magic, even if for no other reason than the historical interest of the old-fashioned props that he has brought back to the stage.  That being said there are plenty of other reasons to see his show, between his comedy, sleight of hand skills, and perfectly choreographed escapology.  It’s as difficult to pigeonhole his act as it is to keep him in a straitjacket, and his show is all the better for it. 

More information on Cross and his performance dates can be found here.

TRENT JAMES: PURE LIES

☆☆☆☆

It cannot be underestimated what a boon the Chicago Magic Lounge is to the local magic scene. Within the flawlessly decorated interior, walls dripping with prints from the golden age of magic and hidden doorways at every turn, any performer is perfectly set up to shine. That being said, the brilliantly constructed beauty of the venue still would not be able to carry the show. For that, the magician still needs their own supply of skill and charm. Luckily for Trent James, he is well situated with both.

If you are the type to google your entertainers before you see a show, which increasingly we all are, you would note that James bills himself as a comedy magician. This may skew expectations, as Pure Lies is not what one would predict from such a claim. Comedy magic almost exclusively uses the trick as a tool to deliver the punch line, whereas James’ show is a far closer fit to a traditional magic show. Cheeky, self-depreciating humor sparkles under every line of banter, but is never made the focus of any bit, just a supplement.

More accurately, Pure Lies is well- performed, classic magic. James pulls from the best of old magic, but wisely avoids padding with any trick that is too worn out. Instead, he makes sure the tricks he does perform are given ample attention, molded around the ideal avenues for audience interaction, and refreshed to provide a modern take.

The unpretentious air that James affects may be the most clever part of Pure Lies, shrugging into the silliness of the show while perfectly disguising the hard work that magicians have to put in to seem effortless. The technical talent displayed by James is remarkable if you know to squint for it, and the fact that you have to squint a triumph on its’ own.

Chicago Magic Lounge seldom lacks for a good show, but Trent James’ Pure Lies stands out within their program as an unmissable event.

More information on Trent James and his performance dates can be found here. 

ALEX KOUVATAS: SOMETHING IS MISSING

☆☆☆

In a field where puns abound, Alex Kouvatas stands out as a master of their usage.  He sets the tone early in Something is Missing, bringing out the fish as promised.  Kouvatas is fantastic with his humour, charm with his audience, and in bringing his own take to his magic. However, he falters markedly in stitching the elements of his show together. 

Kouvatas performs a succession of magic and mentalist tricks, personalized to his style and performance.  His take on making an audience member’s money disappear is a fun example which he uses to bookend the show, but maybe even more fun is the fairly standard card trick which he adds his own ending to, preserving the magic for those who have seen the first part of the trick before.  He is warm with his participants, even explaining a pandemic-polite contact free hug at the end of a trick. 

Unfortunately Kouvatas struggles slightly, most notably in his transitions and confidence.  These two points of issue seemed to feed into each other, but as the show goes on, he appears to gain some confidence and transition more smoothly between tricks.  In addition, Something is Missing brings up interesting topics like dissonance between social norms of success and personal feelings of fulfillment that don’t get the time in the show to feel fully explored, but sound worth exploring. 

What seems to be is missing from Kouvatas’s show it is time and practice.  He suits the stage, shows an impressive degree of creativity in how he performs his tricks, and hints at an inclination to integrate broader themes in to his work.  He is certainly a magician to keep one’s eye on in the future.

Any Fringe debut is a huge achievement.  Making his Fringe debut during this weird pandemic Fringe must take an unbelievable amount of courage, for which Kouvatas deserves commendation.  And while his show could do with fine tuning, his wit and charm make him worth a visit this year.  

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

THE SECRET CONNECTION

☆☆☆☆

The magic of The Secret Connection starts before the zoom show, when each audience member receives a mysterious parcel in the post to be opened on Dr Will Houstoun’s instruction.  This is not arranged via a mentalist trick, the organizers request an address when each ticket is purchased, but if key components of a magic trick are creating a sense of anticipation and wonder the parcel definitely qualifies.  It is an early demonstration of Dr Houstoun’s wholehearted embracement of a new generation of magic that permeates every element of his show. 

Dr Houstoun earned his title with a PhD in Victorian conjuring literature.  He opens his show by asking if the audience would prefer an exhaustive history of notable magic events from the 16th century to date or his collection of zoom-era magic tricks.  While this audience voted decisively for the tricks, Dr Houstoun uses a brief historical introduction to contextualize modern magic as it is known pre-pandemic and how the new era of zoom magic fits into that lineage. 

In a section devoted to sleight of hand tricks, Dr Houstoun takes full advantage of his medium to have maximum impact.  Coin tricks are usually only performed to small audiences so everyone gets a good view, but in a zoom show the whole audience gets a front row seat, so Dr Houstoun can execute this trick regardless of his audience size.  When he moves on to card tricks he goes a step further, with an effect that not only works on zoom but performing it in a way that would not be nearly as impressive in an in-person show. 

The smooth use of the platform deserves its own mention.  The audience are muted by default, and when the chosen participants are pulled in to the show they appear on the same screen as Dr Houstoun, mimicking the way participants were brought on to the stage in pre-pandemic shows.  The audience is also divided out into timed breakout sessions at one point in the show, allowing for a randomized chat with a stranger that would be difficult to work out logistically in an in-person audience, where even if conversation with strangers were encouraged it would be limited to those within speaking distance. 

Dr Houstoun ends on an entirely classic note, with a final reveal that all magic fans will have seen coming from the first few seconds of the show, that he nevertheless effectively ties in to his overarching theme of connections formed.  While the sort of reveal that he utilizes is generally underwhelming to anyone who has seen more than one magic show, it works in context here as a final nod to the history of magic.  The Secret Connection as a whole looks forward, demonstrating how magic has always adapted to its era to create connections and providing compelling proof that it will always continue to do so. 

More information on The Secret Connection can be found here.

DAVE ALNWICK: ETHEREAL

☆☆☆☆

The typical modern magic show often requires two elements that are pandemic-taboo: a large crowd and real-life interpersonal contact, a bedrock that could previously be taken for granted in building the structure of the performance.  Dave Alnwick gets creative in Ethereal to devise a magic show that is free from these foundations.  

There are benefits and drawbacks to live virtual technology in magic, and Alnwick has clearly taken the time to adapt and find a balance that suits his style.  While the particular capability of forcibly muting all but the chosen participant sadly eliminates the sound of applause, it also essentially eradicates any unwanted, distracting commotion, creating a tidier performance atmosphere.  Alnwick’s dynamic stage presence feels especially unfettered to project through the screen.  

Perhaps most obvious to feel but difficult to define is the lack of egregore in a virtual performance, where energy is less easily shared amongst the performer and members of the audience.   Alnwick addresses this head on, structuring Ethereal around various categories of communication.  This reflective use of his presentation scaffolding acknowledges the limits of his current means of performance without detracting from the display of his considerable skill.  

Magically, Ethereal is particularly interactive, as Alnwick has evidently chosen to get around the limits of virtual magic by primarily choosing effects that he can instruct his audience to create at home.  Alnwick helpfully sends out a list of the items required prior to the show, and it is well worth the price of a deck of cards to be able to participate.  Ethereal at times feels less like a “magic show” and more like a “professionally guided magical experience”.  Alnwick explains how to create the effect without explaining the “trick” that makes the magic, exporting the physical work of the effect to his audience’s homes but keeping their sense of wonder for himself.  

Alnwick also takes the time to exhibit a couple card tricks more traditionally, in that he holds and manipulates the cards himself.  His mastery of sleight of hand is indisputable.  These are a fun diversion in a performance that relies more on mind reading and puppeteering the audience’s hands.   

The pandemic is especially tough on the performing arts, and stage magicians in particular have had to redefine their genre during this universally stressful time in order to continue to work.  Holding Alnwick and his colleagues to any formal standard of review at the moment feels entirely inadequate.  That being said, a job well done deserves recognition, and Alnwick creates an entertainingly interactive magical experience in Ethereal that is worthwhile fun for all ages.  

More information on Dave Alnwick and his performance dates can be found here.

WMR FIRST QUARANTINE MAGIC ROUNDUP

At a time when even intimate parlor magic would be too large of a crowd for us, there are so many great magicians out there proving the show does go on. Virtual magic show reviews hopefully to follow here at some point, but for now, something a little different (magicians can have a little critique-free promotion from us, as a treat.) We’re going to start with just sharing lists of some cool magic shows you can see from the comfort (/confinement) of your own home. Please, please do get in touch with us and let us know your favorite magicians who are doing online shows and events so we can include them in Roundups #2 onwards!

  1. The Magic Penthouse – Normally a monthly show in Chicago, the magicians of The Magic Penthouse can currently be found doing weekly Facebook live sessions.  Check them out on Thursdays at 18:00 CST / 23:00 UTC
  2.  Mark James – Magician Mark James is doing weekly ‘Livestream Lockdown’ shows on Mondays at 20:00 UTC, each featuring special magical guests.
  3. The Seance – Looking for something a little more historical? Performers Thom Britton and Jonathan Pritchard can be found on live on Youtube on May 15th at 18:00 CST / 23:00 UTC reading excerpts from Houdini’s ‘A Magician Among the Spirits’

KEVIN QUANTUM: ANTI-GRAVITY

☆☆

Kevin Quantum’s final performance of Anti-Gravity at this year’s Magicfest was to a sold out audience, an impressive feat for the Monday evening before Hogmanay.   This year’s winter Magicfest has apparently found its time to shine in Edinburgh’s busy festival calendar, and Quantum, one of just two solo magical acts this year, has clearly found his following.  Quantum’s particular science fiction blend of physics and magic appeals to all ages, and he cultivates a tone of ingenuous whimsicality that perfectly suits the levitation-themed event.

Quantum devises a plot line in Anti-Gravity with his homemade anti-gravity machine, which slowly gains power over the course of the evening, allowing him narrative justification to gradually increase the stakes of his tricks.  He cleverly uses the same props for a series of effects, as when he switches, levitates, and multiplies a five dollar note.  By using the same object to both follow his theme and deviate from it, he gives himself room to perform a wider variety of tricks while maintaining the cohesion of the show.

A penultimate effect involving two audience participants behaving erratically shifts the tone of the evening.  It is a fascinating glimpse at what Quantum is capable of, taking advantage of the playful magician-scientist character that he embodies so well to create unexpected feelings of unease in the audience.  While it is unfortunately a touch too surrealist to feel fully at home in Anti-Gravity specifically, it piques interest in Quantum’s future projects.

Easily the cutest moment in Anti-Gravity was Quantum’s interactions with one of his early audience participants, a young aspiring magician—who Quantum immediately identified as such by her top hat.  She certainly appeared to take to it very well.  She enthusiastically learned how to manipulate the audience from Quantum and visibly enjoyed her newfound power.  It was lovely to see Quantum taking the time out of his own act to encourage a potential future magician, easily juggling entertaining his audience as a whole with spontaneously inspiring this one audience member in particular.

Anti-Gravity is overall a fun, solidly entertaining show, and Quantum’s personal enthusiasm for both magic and science radiates throughout.  Its simple narrative and overall tone surely satisfy the numerous children in the audience, and Quantum’s performance is surely varied enough to keep their guardians entertained.

 

More information on Kevin Quantum can be found here.