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ASHTON CARTER: MYSTERIOSA

In Ashton Carter’s Mysteriosa, he explores the stories of his family history through a series of illusions, both revisiting the mysteries of his ancestors lives and toying with the concept of reaching out to them, through Spiritualist practices, after their deaths.

The beginning of the Fringe can be a stressful time for performers. The material is often untested, the audiences unknown. For a magician, there comes an even more challenging twist to this anxiety: their audience is anxious too. Though you cannot go to a magic show and not expect the looming threat of having to participate, you do not know what form this participation will take. The audience depends on their magician to win- not quite their trust, but their support,  from the beginning moments, or else what’s left is difficult to salvage. Ashton Carter begins, and continues his show, visibly terrified by the situation at hand. His hands shake, his voice shakes, he gets tongue tied, and is seemingly at a loss for what to do from one moment to the next. This creates a sense of unease immediately that does not go away for the rest of the show.

The audience’s wariness of course is also reflected in a disinclination to interact. No one is inspired to want to take part, and those who ultimately do at Carter’s urging do so begrudgingly.  The only common feeling in the crowd is not captivation with the performer, but empathy for one’s fellow onlooker. At the performance reviewed, the show is stolen by a single crack by one audience member.  An entire Fringe show, and the sole highlight is a nervous joke by someone else who is also (maybe) paying to be there.

It perhaps goes without saying at this point, but the material itself is not strong. The illusions are tired, the story is tedious, and the climax cloying and out of place. Finally, there comes a baffling conclusion. Through most of Carter’s show, he has achieved a ineptitude that could and should, for the most part, be pitiable. However, he crowns the whole thing off by concept-dropping Christianity, both in a way where it cannot be argued that that is not what he meant, but where he was too cowardly to actually say ‘Jesus’ in a magic show. Because yes, if you start talking about Jesus in a magic show, 90% of the time unbelievers will be uncomfortable and believers will be offended. And taking into account Carter’s decision to use a deck of cards with an ethnic slur on them earlier in the show, Mysteriosa blows past ‘pitiable’ for a strong finish in ‘dreadful’.

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

PHANTASMAGORICAL

The aesthetic atmosphere of the basement of Cabaret Voltaire is exactly what one would want and expect from a show that promises “spooky mind reading and Victorian spirit theatre.” Unfortunately, the dark, musty, and legitimately cobwebbed room is the only aspect in which Phantasmagorical excels.

Phantasmagorical is described in its’ Fringe listing as having magic and storytelling. And indeed it does have both. However, while it is possible to integrate these things well, Phantasmagorical does not do so. There is a story in Phantasmagorical. It is a stereotypical spooky Victorian story, with creepy dolls and a ghostly friend and an asylum. The story doesn’t come across as particularly well thought out, isn’t particularly compelling and has no dramatic tension or emotional payoff to speak of, but it exists. There is also magic in Phantasmagorical. It is not particularly well performed, but it is there. But even with these two elements definitely present, they only make each other worse by being clumsily forced together. The magic tricks do not integrate into the story well at all, they seem tangentially connected at best and distract from an already choppy plot. At times, it feels like the author and performer, Sylvia Sceptre, knew what she wanted in the storytelling and forced in the first trick she could think of that was sort of related. At other times, it seems she knew what trick she wanted to perform and forced the story to allow it to fit in, regardless of whether that would be an organic twist.

With Phantasmagorical already suffering from a clunky and fragmented concept, it’s also unfortunate that it was simply ill-performed. The storytelling was overacted with unnerving affect, Sceptre seemed unprepared to handle interacting with the audience, and there were several obvious flubs in the magic tricks that she didn’t recover from quickly. The whole event came across as painfully awkward and under-rehearsed.

There aren’t many female magicians at the Fringe, and it’s great to see one working on and developing a unique act with a decent concept. However, Phantasmagorical is in definite need of further development, both in content and in performance.

 

Phantasmagorical can be found at Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire (Venue 338) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 12:15 from August 15-26

More information on Sylvia Sceptre and her performance dates can be found here

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.