3 Stars

IMPOSSIBLE! WITH BRENDON PEEL

☆☆☆

If magic is known for anything other than the tricks, it’s the bad jokes that make audiences groan until they reluctantly laugh. Brendon Peel, in Impossible! With Brendon Peel got the memo loud and clear, with an impressive stream of jokes that are absolutely terrible in the absolute best way. Impossible! Is an intentionally hodgepodge show, as Peel explains at the start that his aim is to give the audience a taste of each of the genres of magic, from sleight of hand to mind reading. The audience gets a glimpse of an apparently sweet and supportive friendship with fellow magician Tomas McCabe, who Peel points out at the back of his audience as the one to see for those who especially enjoy his mentalism section. But for an overview of magic, Peel is the one to see.

A highlight of the tricks on offer is Peel’s card finding trick. At the reviewed show the participant brought up to help with this was a young boy who looked thrilled to have been invited to share the spotlight. Peel is great with the kids in his audience, going out of his way to involve them all in his act—which is not explicitly geared toward children but is family friendly. Peel’s card finding trick was elevated by its callback to the first mind reading trick of the show, adding an unexpected extra reveal.

This first trick incidentally was a longer-form reveal that many magicians use as a grand finale. Its placement at the start of the show is an early indication of Peel’s skill and justified confidence in his act. Like the acrobats who jump straight in to a three-high tower in their opening number, he lets the audience know that they don’t need to wait until the end to be impressed, the entire show is on that higher level.

Impossible! With Brendon Peel is a perfect introduction to magic for all ages, and his excellent showmanship makes it fun for seasoned magic fans as well. His limited Fringe run is already proving popular, with a busy audience for his first weekend. He can only get more popular as word of his abilities spreads.

More information on Brendon Peel can be found here.

MAGIC ROMAN’S SUMMER HOLIDAY

☆☆☆

Magic Roman immediately grabs the attention of the children in his audience—and many of the adults—with his lovely bubbly coffee mug at the very start of Magic Roman’s Summer Holiday. The pretty bubbles are equally lovely to see and engaging for the children, several of whom reach out to bat them out of the air. Roman here establishes the pantomime-esque atmosphere, welcoming kids’ verbal contributions to the show. It all makes for an excellent lunchtime destination for young families.

As an adult, magically Roman is a bit of a mixed bag. He does not shy away from tricks and props that will only appeal to children, a point in his favor given his target audience, but perhaps worth noting for their attending parents. And this does not mean that there is nothing to keep the adults engaged, he earns their applause too—especially with his mind reading style trick that had a fun twist for all the age groups. Roman rounds out his entertainment value with a few original songs themed on his holiday, great transition pieces that feel a step up from the usual practice in magic shows of playing a recording of music in such transitory periods instead. He has a multitude of talents.

Kids and adults are all invited onstage, and Roman is great with both. The kids in particular are encouraged in their adorable interactions with him at all times. His cutest exchange comes from an effect with a paper bag. The kids’ increasing frustration at Roman’s misinterpretation of their requests was rewarded, eventually, with an exciting reveal that stunned them in to silence. Entertainment aside, he does a great job of encouraging the kids to get rid of excess energy through dancing and screaming, surely a welcome addition to the show in their parents’ eyes.

Magic Roman’s Summer Holiday is excellent children’s entertainment. The show is primarily geared toward their little ones but the adults will undoubtedly find joy in it as well. As at the reviewed show it appears to be under-appreciated, but for the group it’s geared toward it’s well worth the visit.

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

MISS MAGIC

☆☆☆

Staged in one of the wee cabins tucked away in a disused section of the Omni Centre, Miss Magic, who introduces herself as Kay, is a hidden gem. From the start she establishes herself as one of the most interesting magicians at this year’s Fringe. Most magicians describe their journey to magic as a childhood obsession turned unexpected career path. Kay, on the other hand, used to be a professional trapeze artist, and only became a magician as an adult when an injury forced her retirement from the circus. While her life stories are told more as a way to introduce herself to the audience than as an integrated feature of the magical performance, the magic that she performs is to a high standard.

Kay uses a variety of sleight of hand magic and mentalism throughout her act. One magic effect stands out in particular, as it’s essentially the same effect as performed by a magician at this Fringe in one of the larger venues (albeit with distinct styles) and the Miss Magic version comes across as much more impressive. Her mentalism as well is difficult to find fault with. It’s definitely  a magazine sort of show, with little to connect the tricks beside Kay’s flow of patter, but the pieces themselves are great.

The audience feels integrated at every turn. Kay developes a strong relationship with the audience, she could probably hold their attention with stories about her life alone. With the relatively small venue size the majority of the audience could be included as participants in the tricks, and Kay takes full advantage, pulling from every group in the seats at least once. Leaning in to her femininity without relying on it, she is a welcoming presence on stage, occasionally poking fun at her audience as magicians do but all in good fun.

As one of the two female magicians at this year’s Fringe, Kay is set apart by that alone, but Miss Magic is worth a visit more for her skill and style. She has a central venue at a perfect time for after work drinks—an ideal combination. Go have fun watching this cool lady do her thing.

More information on Miss Magic and her performance dates can be found here.

STUNT MAGICIAN: SABOTAGE

☆☆☆

Danger Dave Reubens is very wholesome for a man who opens his show by drilling holes in himself.  Stunt Magician: Sabotage is premised on Reubens receiving threatening letters from a would-be saboteur, and using the audience to help him discover the identity of this nemesis and save the show, a bit like an interactive magical Scooby Doo.  His larger-than-life cartoonish personality fills the large warehouse, and keeps the undivided attention of even his youngest fans. 

Reubens uses a range of familiar dangerous magic routines to build his storyline, as well as fun danger-themed takes on other tricks.  He definitely doesn’t do any card tricks, which he sounds very pleased about—and to be fair it is unusual for a magic show to feel complete without any cards involved.  His escapology series is especially fun to watch, he demonstrates his ability to escape from a few different types of handcuffs, and his take on Russian Roulette brings in a bit of fear without breaking UK gun legislation or making any members of the audience feel threatened. 

To be fair none of the audience ever feel threatened during Sabotage, regardless of whether they are on or off stage.  While for a few tricks Reubens understandably favors adults to join him onstage, he seems to make an effort to get as many kids involved as possible when appropriate.  The children who do go up to him look delighted to walk amongst the scary-looking props but are kept away from anything potentially genuinely dangerous. 

Reubens is the kind of children’s performer who keeps their adults engaged as well, even if only out of curiosity of how he will resolve his show’s plot, which he does to great effect with his lovely wholesome panache.  He is a great performer especially for parents who want to indulge the excessive sadism of undeveloped young minds while still ensuring that their small ones leave with a positive message. 

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

CAMERON YOUNG: A SECRET SHOW

☆☆☆

At around noon at the Fringe, getting to Cameron Young’s Secret Show feels like an early morning; perhaps the non-Fringe equivalent would be having to get to the office at 6AM. He has less time slot competition from his fellow magicians than with sleep. However, for the early birds it’s a worthwhile way to pass the time.

At the beginning of the show Young introduces the audience to his numbered binder of tricks—instantly appealing for its tidy organization, the audience knows they aren’t in for the kind of chaotic magic show that results in a mess of loose cards and sundry props strewn across the stage. Young allows the audience to choose the number of the trick that he’ll perform. This is a great gimmick, giving everyone a chance to feel agency in creating the direction of the show, and giving each day of the show a distinct flavor. As Young states, anyone who doesn’t like the show is welcome to buy a ticket for the next day and see him perform something a bit different.

Despite giving himself more to master, each trick that Young performed at the reviewed show looks well practiced. A highlight is a card routine that failed to get fourteen year old Young a date with his math class crush. The audience participant enthusiastically returned his flirtatious dance moves, and looked thrilled with the reveal that happened right between her teeth.

As an early show, the majority of Young’s audience were older folks and families with young children. He is great with both age groups, inviting older folks to get in touch with their silly sides and making sure excitable youngsters don’t interrupt him too much while avoiding shutting them down. At least two children in his front row left badgering their parents for magic lessons; we look forward to reviewing them in about a decade and hearing their re-telling of how Young inspired them.

The Secret Show is definitely worth a visit, perhaps especially for families but enjoyable for all ages. This is only Young’s first show of the day, like a few performers he runs two shows a day. However, what really makes him stand out (and is perhaps the most baller move of this year’s Fringe) is that he has this Secret Show through the paid Fringe, and his second show with the PBH free fringe. If it’s anything like this one his second show is surely worth checking out as well.

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

KANE & ABEL: TWINPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Kane & Abel didn’t have to look too hard to find each other as their magic partners, they were lucky enough each have to have been born with the ideal magician with whom to share the stage. Twinpossible puts their sweet sibling relationship at center stage. They didn’t look far for their premise either, going for the theme of “twins” to loosely tie their tricks together. While the theme may be weak, more importantly their relationship and magical skills are strong.

The tricks that they perform are largely takes on the classics—for example a rope sequence with an extra long rope, or a card finding trick with an extra spectacular reveal. Each one is adjusted to fit their style, but even more cleverly, they take great advantage of having the both of them onstage. They don’t just play off each others’ energy, they have created versions of effects that could not be performed with just one magician. This helps set them apart as a bit more than just twins together onstage, it gives a bit of a bite to their act—although there are also moments where each performer is able to shine as an individual.

While many magicians developed their tricks over the lockdown, Kane & Abel seem to have more noticeably improved their storytelling. The magic is great too, but what jumps out this year is how well their effects are integrated into the little stories that they tell. It’s an interesting, welcome development, and definitely piques interest in continuing to follow their careers. Twinpossible is a fun lunchtime interlude at the Voodoo Rooms—in the lovely ballroom, the prime PBH venue. Even on weekdays the timing is great for both tourists and nearby office workers, and they will surely all enjoy watching Kane and Abel. 

More information on Kane & Abel and their performance dates can be found here.

CASPAR THOMAS: SLEIGHT OF HANDKERCHIEF

☆☆☆

In popular culture the “witching hour” is a dramatic time of night, midnight or shortly thereafter.  At the Fringe, on the other hand, the “witching hour” evidentially occurs around three or four PM—consistently the busiest couple of hours for magic shows.  So Caspar Thomas has his work cut out for him in getting people in to Sleight of Handkerchief.  The theme, of course, is the handkerchief, that vibrant and ubiquitous magic prop. 

As is expected given the theme, it’s a relatively old fashioned magic show.  This is not to its detriment, it’s the show’s niche in the Fringe magic ecosystem.  Good Omens fans, picture if Aziraphale used his celestial powers in that children’s birthday party scene and you’ll get a decent idea of Thomas’s magic style.  The multicolored scarves make for a visually pleasing experience, and Thomas is adept at putting them through their paces.  His range of tricks include the usual handkerchief effects, as well as many that he has adapted to make use of these pretty props. 

In a cozy venue and with Thomas’s kind demeanor, joining him onstage feels less like joining a performance and more like helping a pal demonstrate his cool skills.  Nothing remotely scary or onerous is asked of the participants, Thomas does all the work in this chill show.  Many audience members are able to join in from their seats as well, such as when Thomas brings out his big rings.  He asks a few people to give them a bit of a tug but when the magic happens it’s entirely in his hands. 

The audience knows what they’re going to get with a show called Sleight of Handkerchief, and Thomas delivers it well.  The relaxed atmosphere is very different from the high energy of, for example, a standard comedy magic show, and this is a nice change of pace at the busy Fringe.  Magic fans could do a lot worse. 

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

THE MAGIC OF JIM

☆☆☆

They’ve let the resident Pleasance Courtyard magician indoors! Jim’s self-titled The Magic of Jim clocks in at just half the generally prescribed Fringe hour-long show. He runs through a few standard tricks, but what really stands out is Jim’s story of hustling his way in to the Fringe and enthusiasm for what he does. He’s still hustling, his name can be spotted as far afield as the cheeky “anti-Fringe” pop up along Leith Walk. Old habits die hard. Here at his home, the Pleasance, his series of tricks become a celebration of Fringe magic and and building the life you want through sheer tenacity.

Jim’s smaller size venue allows him to perform close up tricks to great effect. An early card finding trick gets a good slice of the audience involved, without singling anyone out too early on—participants are able to choose their card from their seat. The new indoor space and captive audience allows him space between tricks. Jim explores his philosophy of life through his Rubik’s cube, which he doesn’t even have to solve to impress his audience.

When it does come time to involve the audience more closely, Jim gets a good cross section of age range. His participants with larger roles are each rewarded for their efforts with a memento, an important factor to many magic attendees. A late afternoon show, at the show reviewed he attracted a crowd primarily of older folks and families with young children. It’s an enthusiastic audience, but as a veteran of the streets Jim doesn’t let any extraneous chatter deter him. Special kudos goes to the future mentalist in Jim’s audience, who managed to identify the reviewer for what she was as the crowd left the show. Based on his approximate age, the reviewer wouldn’t be surprised to find themselves reviewing him in about decade.

There are more elaborate magic shows at this Fringe, with more elaborate props, and certainly plenty that last a longer time. But Jim has his niche. If you’re in the area with a spare half hour before your next show his is the place to go to make the time pass quickly. You may be surprised by just how much you enjoy his work.

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

MAGICAL BONES: SOULFUL MAGIC

☆☆☆

In a way, Soulful Magic is the most classic magic show at the Fringe this year. If you’re looking for levitating ladies and exciting escapology this is the show for you. This is not the only factor that makes it feel unique. Magical Bones retains his status as the only break dancing magician performing at the Fringe, and the stories he tells, celebrating black culture through history and across the English speaking world, contextualize his act in both cultural heritage and modern representation.

Magical Bones is a whole circus in one man, and as far as this reviewer is concerned there is no higher compliment. He originally performed as a break dancer before getting in to magic, and luckily for his audience the break dancing is given equal billing in his show to this day. While this is not a dance review site, it is worth noting that the break dancing that Magical Bones performs would not look out of place in the break dancing/dance fusion shows at this year’s Fringe… except for the fact that at the same time he’ll find your card and solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s an exceptionally visually exciting form of magical reveal.

The magic itself is well done too. A highlight is a card finding routine set to a bespoke music track, it’s worth a ticket for that alone. The only slight mis-step came from a well-meaning audience participant misunderstanding her instructions and prompting an effect to be revealed a little bit early, but Magical Bones glossed over this with brisk professionalism. He is a charming performer and has a friendly rapport with all of the participants who join him onstage.

Through the celebration of black culture, fantastic magic, and incredible dancing, it is difficult to ignore a less fortunate magical stereotype that has crept in to the show. Building a show around breaking down barriers in magic while un-ironically introducing a female assistant to be levitated and magically dressed in a ballgown can feel little bit hypocritical. Women are hugely underrepresented in magic, and using the largely mute magician’s assistant role as just another trapping of a classic magic show can come across as regressive. 

Soulful Magic may feel like two steps forward, one step back in terms of diversity in magic, but it’s tough to be everything for everyone, and for its faults it’s still a fun show. It’s wonderful to see Magical Bones’s celebration of black magic so popular at this year’s Fringe, managing to sell out on one of the few warm, sunny weekend days in Edinburgh is no small feat. Blending street magic, classic stage magic, dance, and black culture makes for a show unlike anything else available.

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

DOM CHAMBERS: FAKE WIZARD

☆☆☆

Magicians will say all kinds of things to get members of their audience to join them on stage.  “It’ll be fun”, “I’ll give you a present”, “Everyone will cheer for you”, “I won’t hurt you”.  Dom Chambers has perhaps the most successful approach yet seen at this year’s Fringe, in his Edinburgh debut Fake Wizard.  Early in the show he lays out a row of beers and invites whoever gets there first to take one to enjoy while watching the rest of his show, queueing a brief race and at least a few people already predisposed to like him after having only spent a few short minutes in his presence.  This sets the tone for the rest of the show—Chambers has own cheeky takes on all the magic he performs. 

Throughout the show Chambers manages to maintain his good relationship with the audience.  He gets willing volunteers to hand him their valuables, and although magic audiences are trained to expect this to result in some temporary distress before the relief of the reveal he does leave them hanging for a while.  Nevertheless the individual in question is willing to trust Chambers repeatedly over the course of the show. 

In the reviewed showing Chambers also dealt with an unusual heckler, a baby, who was remarkably well behaved for the majority of the show but did make their complaints heard at the odd interval.  Chambers included this youngest of his fans in the act, and while the baby may not have noticed this was surely a relief to its adult guardians, as well as to the whole rest of the audience.  It’s easier to relax in to the enjoyment of the show with a magician who seems to have an even temperament. 

In Chambers’s display of Fake Wizard-ry the underlying structure of the tricks may feel familiar, but he dresses each one up to suit his playful personality.  And for his final effect, whether you love it or it makes you a little uncomfortable, you won’t see any other magician do it this Fringe.  Chambers certainly shows the kind of creative thinking that garners a fanbase. 

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