3 Stars

MARK WATSON: LIVING THE DREAM

Man of Mischief Presents… Living the Dream! is advertised with a title and description, but without the name of the performer.  Audience members who find their way down the graffitied corridor to its windowless venue might feel some apprehension.  This is quickly dispelled by the cheery Mark Watson.  He builds Living the Dream on the story of his escape from corporate life to become a professional performer, and his joy in his new career is evident at every step of the show.

The highlight of the show is Watson’s superb juggling.  Other magicians might perform a bit of juggling as a novelty part of their show, but Watson is actually properly a juggler as well as a magician.  While his knife juggling may be a little bit scary, it is well received by the majority of the audience.  Unexpectedly, Watson also juggles cigar boxes.  He tells the story of how this was a classic feature of historical juggling performances, which is easy to believe.  Perhaps no one in the room knows as much about juggling as Watson, but it is difficult to imagine any other reason for him to independently decide that he wanted to learn juggling tricks with cigar boxes.  Regardless, what he does with them is absolutely incredible.

Watson’s magic is a little bit more patchy.  He starts strong, performing an escapist routine to escape from his suit jacket, a symbol of his past corporate lifestyle.  However, several of his tricks involve relatively long set up times, and he does not fill this time as gracefully as he could.  The results are nevertheless impressive.  His interactions with the audience are similarly patchy.  His joking interactions stray a bit too frequently into outright unkindness.  On the other hand, he does still build up enough trust for one especially brave audience participant to allow Watson to juggle knives over his face.

Living the Dream is worth a visit for the juggling alone.  Watson concludes the show by drawing a conclusion from his story, that everyone’s version of living their dream is different, and that he is grateful to be living his.  By this point the audience is happy to share in his pride at finding self-actualization.

 

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

CAMERON YOUNG: THE SECRETS SHOW

☆☆

The Secrets Show is not quite sure what it wants to be.  The audience may get the impression that it is a test run, in which the performer is looking to figure out what direction he might want to take in his magical career.  Luckily the performer in question is Cameron Young, who is brimming with magical skill and charisma.  Watching him show off the variety of tricks in his repertoire is a pleasure.

Young has a clear preference for dangerous magic, interspersing these risky tricks throughout the show.  His version of the classic trick involving a dangerous bag is of note because he has made the effort to switch up the number of bags and level of audience involvement, giving it a more personal touch.  His interactions with his primary audience participant for this trick have a pleasantly humorous effect on what can otherwise be a fairly scary trick.

In contrast, one of the segments that Young spends a considerable amount of time on is a very sweet extended camping trip story sequence.  Young talks about how his childhood spent camping led to a love of magic (the story of how he encountered a magician in the wilderness is teased but never fully explained) and weaves several tricks into the fabric of the narrative.  He successfully creates moments for the magic and storytelling to complement each other.

Where Young struggles slightly is in blending this narrative approach with his proclivity for dangerous stunts.  It can certainly be done, and Young certainly seems to have the magical and performance skills to create and perform a more cohesive show.  Even when working with such disjointed material his is an engaging stage presence and manages to create a fun magical atmosphere.

 

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

CRAIG STEPHENSON: MAGIC, MIND READING, AND TELERABBITRY

Craig Stephenson risks being easily dismissed as gimmicky by framing the majority of Magic, Mind Reading, and Telerabbitry around the conceit that a stuffed bunny toy is his performance partner.  However, he cleverly chose a very cute gimmick, so it pointing out is less of a criticism and more of an adorable fact.  Mr B is introduced at the very beginning of the show, and while he is sadly sat by the side of the stage for a fair amount of the middle (Stephenson explains part of this absence as Mr B being made nervous by the scarier tricks), he does play an important role in the final reveal.

Stephenson’s other gimmick is that he claims to be the only magician of the Fringe who will prove that he cannot do magic or read minds.  He does follow through on explaining some of the simpler processes behind the tricks, but anyone who has seen nearly any other magician will recognize this as a common tactic used to make the magician’s more complex tricks look all the more astonishing.  Stephenson does inevitably fall into this convention.  It works as it should, the following feats do indeed have more impact after his initial explanations, but this does make his initial claim sound pointless in hindsight.

This is especially the case as Stephenson’s magical abilities speak for themselves.   The majority of his effects emphasize mentalism over sleight of hand.  His mind reading using various written materials is solidly impressive, and his version of Russian roulette is scary enough even without the use of firearms.

Stephenson is a strong enough performer, especially as a family-oriented magician.  His use of a bunny toy prop seems to indicate that he has embraced this strength.  At the end of the show Stephenson mentions that while he does not read his reviews, Mr B the bunny does read them.  So, in that spirit… Great job, Mr B!  You deserve an extra carrot tonight!

 

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

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC IN A JIFFY

☆☆

As magic show themes go, Elliot Bibby’s for Magic in a Jiffy is the most instantly relatable.  Who among us has never had trouble with buying things online?  Bibby covers common pitfalls, from a late delivery delaying important plans and buying something that arrives looking not quite how you expect.

While many of Bibby’s tricks use techniques that fans of magic might find familiar, each one is impressively tailored to fit his theme.  Bibby reads minds using the names of large companies with a focus on those in the shipping industry—albeit with an anecdote about McDonald’s that much of the audience seems to have no idea how to respond to—and predicts a second participant’s random choice with the help of a magically speedy Amazon delivery.  This is even noticeable in the little moments.  Many magicians make the exact same joke about sniffing their markers, so Bibby’s take on this theme is a fun surprise and perfectly suits his onstage character.

At the show reviewed, Bibby unfortunately made an uncharacteristic number of slip-ups in performing his sleight of hand, that an observant audience member would not be able to help but notice.  This was perhaps simply due to illness; Bibby’s voice was noticeably hoarse.  However, aside from those issues, Bibby powered through with an admirable amount of energy.

Bibby interacts with his audience participants with care and respect.  One woman in particular was slightly distressed at the halfway point of a trick involving her bank card, and Bibby quickly switched off his microphone to reassure her.  While this did briefly interrupt the flow of the show, it is commendable that he valued an audience member’s emotional comfort over his own performance.  This moment cut through the stage presence to reveal Bibby as a genuinely good person.

Magic in a Jiffy is charming in its skillful construction and delightful in Bibby’s adept performance.  It is well worthwhile for good fun magic.

 

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

TOM BRACE: BRACE OF SPADES

☆☆

Brace yourself (sorry), Tom Brace’s show Brace of Spades is a whirlwind of fun, playful energy. Brace is a cheerful, exuberant performer whose enthusiasm is a solid match for the family demographic that one can expect at an afternoon magic show. Accordingly, while the show lacks a certain degree of cohesiveness or polish, it is bright and exciting for the youngest elements of the crowd.

Brace performs classic magic effects, but makes them fresh with his own effusive nature. Brace understands that in family magic in particular, the audience does not so much care about him- for an older audience the character of the magician is often an important element of the narrative, but when mostly focusing on children- well, they just want to see the magic. So while Brace’s presentation lacks in the personal, it is because it doesn’t have to.

The tricks themselves are performed with faultless dexterity, and Brace excels at sleight of hand. He also has, for the most part, a charmingly silly banter with the audience. The one occasional misstep in this is his attempt to keep enough cheek in so the adults in the room don’t get bored. At best, jokes about the women brought up for audience participation can be cute enough at first, but become repetitive to the point of irritating as they are recycled several times throughout the show. At worst, they are even unnecessary, as Brace is much more adept at the wholesome chat, and the cheek often seems forced in the first place.

But Brace has enough charm to keep the audience on bored, as evidenced by one particular moment of the performance reviewed. At one point, Brace has an audience member on stage who is expected to try to call a friend or family member, live an onstage. Unfortunately, a lot of people are busy in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the participant struggled to do so- but despite this set up taking near twenty minutes when it seems to have probably been planned to last about two, Brace never lets the moment lag, and every attempt and failure is made to be a great source for comedy and audience empathy.

Brace of Spades is a fast-paced and silly magic show, perfect for a family afternoon out.

 

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

 

MAGICAL BONES: BLACK MAGIC

☆☆☆

There is only one hip hop dancing magician at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, but Magical Bones does not rest on the laurels of the uniqueness of this aspect. Rather, in Black Magic, he has created a show that is both fun and thought provoking, and skillfully performed throughout.

The term ‘Black Magic’ is not in reference to sinister sorcery, or folk magic that the west misappropriated and misconstrued. It is instead for his own position as a black magician. Bones gives honor to  his magician role models by performing tricks inspired by them at several parts of the show, and uses his platform to teach his audience about these underappreciated black magicians of the past.

But Bones is not just good in the shadow of others, he’s pure charm all on his own. Even when a trick or two may falter, the magician doesn’t, and his enchanting personality keeps everyone on board.

Bones not only incorporates his dancing skills into his act, but even a little audience education of it in individual tricks. He shares his personal journey into these combined passions through magical effects as many magicians do, but he has a very unique story to tell. Most compelling of all is a beautiful mix of a classic card effect and a song mash up that accompanies it perfectly.

You don’t have to like hip hop to watch Black Magic, but you may find that you do by the end. Magical Bones has created a fresh and surprisingly educational experience, and he never loses a beat.

 

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

ASH PRYCE: PARANORMAL ILLUSIONIST

One of the most common ways of engaging with Spiritualism in its heyday was an intimate parlor session. Just you, the medium, and a few other select attendees. Ash Pryce’s show Paranormal Illusionist, in this sense, is simply picked up and moved from a parlor to the side room of an only slightly busy bar off an only slightly busy street. But even though the masses of Fringe attendees haven’t found it yet – and fair, it was only day one of performances- Paranormal Illusionist delivers an interesting and well-wrought experience.

Exclusivity isn’t the only thing this show has in common with a genuine Spiritualist experience. Pryce has a lot of knowledge to impart about Spiritualist practices, and all of it accurate, with no unnecessary sensationalism. He is demonstrably aware that Spiritualism is compelling on it’s own, if the audience gets to see it happening in their own hands. The illusions of Pananormal Illusions all involve audience participation, but, a comfort to the wary, all of this participation is lowkey and comfortable to take part in. The audience members enjoy getting to interact with each part as much as they do getting to observe them, and are treated with respect from their illusionist for their trouble.

Participating in the show also makes the audience even more aware of Pryce’s skill as a magician (for of course that is what most successful Spiritualists were, magicians telling you one extra lie). Thanks to the strength of his theme, Pryce was able to do magic tricks that come off as unique and original because they are encased in a overarching story, even if that isn’t completely so. And with these tricks, he performs smoothly, keeping his attendee’s attention exactly where he wants it.

Paranormal Illusionist hasn’t found all of it’s audience yet, but when they find it they will find a clever and well crafted show, as educational as it is enjoyable.

 

 

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