3 Stars

CHRIS DUGDALE: UP CLOSE!

Chris Dugdale is pure Las Vegas cheesiness, and if you don’t like that you won’t like this show. But even if you don’t, you have to admit, he’s the best at it around. Up Close is perfectly on-brand Dugdale, loud and smarmy and yet undeniably entertaining.

Dugdale is the definition of polished and slick. Not a second of the show lags, not a single thing a volunteer says throws him off, and every single joke get uproarious laughter and applause. One almost expects magicians of his brand of theatrical to go for some laughs at their volunteers’ expense, but he is absolutely professional and utterly respectful. Dugdale only ever laughs with his volunteers, and showers them with compliments to offset the unease of being onstage in front of so many people. Having been brought onstage myself, I can attest that he absolutely should be commended for this deference.

Up Close is not a show of terribly original magic; it’s not even new to him, which will be very apparent if you’ve seen him at the Fringe before. But his experience with the material means that it is flawlessly executed. And despite this repetition, none of the content ever comes across as stale, with Dugdale pouring his ample enthusiasm into every word and gesture.

Chris Dugdale’s Up Close is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the best at being ridiculous you’ll find. For an hour of fun and funny entertainment, expert showmanship, and masterly magic, Up Close is a solid pick.

 

Chris Dugdale can be found at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:10 from August 18-26

ELLIOT BIBBY: MCMAGIC MOMENTS

According to Elliot Bibby, his is the only Scottish-themed magic show at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. This isn’t something that would necessarily be obvious, but once you think about it, you realize it’s true. It seems a little wrong that this fantastic festival that absolutely explodes across Edinburgh for a full month every year would lack representation of their hosts in a category as significant as magic, but that’s exactly what’s happened. That being said, Bibby certainly does his homeland proud in this snappy and sweet show.

The Scottish theme is ever present but not invasive, making an appearance with a Saltire as the focal point of the sparse stage decor, Scottish music, and in Bibby’s stories of his grandmother in Skye. These stories provide Bibby’s foundation for his show, and work well to connect each element into a compelling experience. Bibby also succeeds in rolling with the unexpected. He keeps his cool and deals admirably with his occasional tech problems and confused volunteers.

Bibby’s greatest strength, even considering his fast-paced and impeccably performed magic, is his ability to engage his audience. He is genuinely funny in an unpackaged way, for although he certainly has mastered his practiced patter, he also has a open and cheerful affect that makes everyone happy to be there and comes across friendly and sincere. Bibby has perfected the balance of the aloof mystery that so befits a magician and heartfelt authenticity.

To say Elliot Bibby’s McMagic Moments is the best Scottish-themed magic show at the Edinburgh Fringe might be a little too cheeky. But just because it is the only one doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth a visit, not just for the novelty, but because it’s a fun and exciting show.

 

Elliot Bibby can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 16:30 from August 17-19, 21-26

MICHAEL BRANDIE: BIZARRE

Michael Brandie opens Bizarre by saying that he was shunned from the mind reading community for doing magic, and from the magic community for doing mind reading. This might sound a little bit odd to anyone who has just spent a week at the Fringe watching magic shows, as many incorporate elements of both mind reading and sleight of hand, which may be what Brandie is referring to when he says “magic”. However, while he does do some mind reading, Brandie’s focus is primarily the types of magic tricks that might be classed as dangerous stunts, or perhaps “scary magic”.

A theme of Bizarre is Brandie’s love for old films, he uses film names in mind reading tricks and references films in the set-up for many of his stunts. This does not put off viewers who are unfamiliar with his favorite films, as he explains all of his references thoroughly enough for his audience to understand them. However, it adds an extra level of engagement for film fans in the audience, and even for those who are not in the know it is lovely to see that added personal element give flavor to the show.

Brandie’s stunts are varied, covering a range designed to inspire disgust and alarm in the audience. Some start nice and peaceful before Brandie begins the scare tactics, while others are unapologetically frightening from the start. These are fantastic from a performance perspective. Brandie is reassuring enough at the start of each trick that the audience becomes reasonably certain that he is in no life threatening danger, only to perform stunts dangerous enough that they doubt their former certainty.

Live theater can be unpredictable, especially live theater that requires audience participation, and Brandie encountered such an unpredictability this evening when one of his participants was unwilling to come up on stage. Brandie dealt with this well, performing the effect in a way that allowed this participant to remain in her seat. Such respect for his audience’s boundaries was especially reassuring in this danger-driven show.

Brandie is great at what he does in Bizarre, and this type of scary magic surely has its niche in the magical community. For those that enjoy the bizarre, even at its most disgusting or frightening, Brandie’s Bizarre is the place to be.

THE GRUMPY MAGICIANS: NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK

Two charming gentlemen, Paul Novak and Johnny B Good, perform a delightful show as The Grumpy Magicians for the first week of the Fringe. In Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, The Grumpy Magicians are upfront about their goal, to con their audience, who, they determine early on, are all suckers. They do, at the very least, successfully steal a place in their audience members’ hearts.

The Grumpy Magicians rely on classic magic tricks to fool the audience. They even produce a rabbit in a hat—luckily a toy rabbit, to avoid any implications of animal abuse. A highlight includes a blender, a less common prop at magic shows. Some of their tricks do lack deftness, and there are moments when the audience sees a prop before they should, or the face of a card a little bit too early. However, the majority of the tricks are done with suitable skill to conceal the deception.

To be fair, any inconsistencies in The Grumpy Magicians’ magic hardly matters, as their appeal is in their charm and rapport, both with each other and with their audience. Despite the grumpiness, they have a solid partnership. They work smoothly together and appear dependably supportive of each other. This is especially nice to see in a magic show, as magicians often perform solo and can look very lonely up on stage by themselves.

Audience participants likewise feel safe in the hands of The Grumpy Magicians. The Magicians take advantage of their age to take a grandfatherly attitude toward their participants, which they manage to do without straying into being too patronizing.

While The Grumpy Magicians might not be the most expert magicians at the Fringe, their act is lovely. They adapt well to performing appropriately for any children in the audience, making them a great family option. The Grumpy Magicians make for a solidly entertaining hour as both magicians and entertainers in general.

ADAM PATEL: BROWN MAGIC

Adam Patel has chosen the classic theme of his own life story, for his show Brown Magic, and the development of his interest in magic. Patel uses his magic tricks to complement and illustrate the stories that he tells. His anecdotes and jokes do often use stereotypes, but he does not rely on stereotypes to get cheap laughs, rather he uses them in his own original manner. Patel’s magic tricks are likewise well performed and effectively used.

Brown Magic began with Patel offstage, directing audience participants through a first trick using his voice alone. This did run into a slight speed-bump, through no fault of Patel’s own, as the participant chosen to read the denouement of this trick had to run back to her seat to get her reading glasses, but Patel dealt with this well, making sure that the audience was entertained and his participant felt comfortable. Patel’s expert handling of the situation turned a potential blunder into charming introduction, ensuring that by the time he physically stepped on stage the audience was already on his side.

Patel’s main sleight of hand trick is performed alongside his story of trying to impress a childhood crush with magic. This story certainly increases the audience’s sympathy for Patel. His well executed trick brings the mood back up, as he demonstrates both his recovery from childhood disappointment and his increased magical skills as an adult.

Patel’s take on mind reading is interesting and modern, as he bases one of his mind reading demonstrations on Tinder, and, for another, uses an app of his own design. The latter is used especially creatively, although it is definitely for the best that Patel specifies at the start of this segment that he wants an audience participant who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Patel’s final trick is similarly creative, imbuing magical tropes with his own unique flavor.

Brown Magic is solidly entertaining. Patel uses his life story to create his particular take on magic very effectively. While many of his magic tricks are fairly standard, Patel performs them well, and uses them in an interesting manner over the course of the stories that he tells.

 

Adam Patel can be found at Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 18:40 until through August 12th. 

KEVIN QUANTUM: AND FOR MY NEXT TRICK

In And For My Next Trick, Kevin Quantum fully embraces the silly side of magic.  The slightest notion of a theme gives the show some structure, while allowing Quantum to perform a wide range of varying tricks.  Quantum takes advantage of this freedom to show off an impressive breadth of versatility for an hour long show.

Early in the show, Quantum performs a well-judged card trick.  Quantum’s audience is just big enough that the people at the back might have had trouble seeing a playing card, but Quantum made sure to use a heavily marked card for the duration of the trick to avoid any such difficulties.  Quantum performs this trick with dexterity and poise, demonstrating his skill in classic sleight of hand.

Quantum gets into more story-based magic as well, with a magical attraction themed segment featuring a mock date with an audience participant.  In such a trick the choice of participant is key, as they have a slightly more involved role than just picking a card, and Quantum chose perfectly.  His participant appeared delighted to have her turn on stage, which made that part of the show even more delightful to watch.  The theme led Quantum into a performance that was at times more comedy-based than magic, but this was no disadvantage as he entertained the audience throughout.

Performing can be unpredictable, and Quantum is adept at handling potentially challenging variables.  Quantum has a good rapport with his audience.  If he teases the participants who he brings on stage he comes across as friendly rather than antagonistic.  Additional disturbances arose on this evening with equipment difficulties and an unusually noisy fan, but Quantum dismissed these with a smile and a joke, and did not allow them to have any detrimental effect on his performance.

Quantum uses And For My Next Trick to bring the audience on a quick journey through the more playful parts of his repertoire.  Quantum seems to be having as much fun on stage as the audience is having watching him, which makes him all the more enjoyable to watch.

 

Kevin Quantum can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 21:30 from August 9-20, 22-26

MAGICFEST GALA: FAST & FURIOUS

☆☆

MagicFest’s gala this year is themed Fast & Furious, and is notable for its scarcity of traditional magic.  The host is the one self-described magician of the ensemble—although, to be fair, he is joined on stage by an illusionist troupe.  This works to the gala’s advantage simply because inviting a wider range of entertainers allows for more options in putting together an interestingly varied show.

Kevin Quantum returns to host the gala.  Perhaps in acknowledgement of his status as the only traditional magician of the evening, Quantum does a fair amount of magic in between the main acts.  His assortments of tricks are a disjointed jaunt through the world of magic that keeps everyone well entertained in the transition times.  He has a considerate rapport with the audience, using a combination of volunteerism and random selection to choose the participants that join him on stage to ensure that as many eager viewers as possible get their chance in front of the crowd.

Like many magicians, Javier Jarquin’s act uses a lot of playing cards.  However Jarquin is not a magician, he is the Card Ninja, so rather than stealthily manipulating his cards he demonstrates methods for throwing them.  Despite his variety of throwing methods, this may get a little bit repetitive for some audience members.  Jarquin’s enthusiasm and audience interaction help him continue to engage them.

Tom Crosbie’s Rubik’s cube themed performance is next on stage.  His Rubik’s cube solves are fast, and his cheerful chatter of stories and facts—nearly entirely about Rubik’s cubes—matches the speed of his hands.  Crosbie creates different solve situations, alternately tossing his cube to the audience to get in mixed up and keeping it in his own hands to show off his quickest solution methods, to get the maximum mileage out of his single cube.

The illusionist company Magus Utopia splits their act, performing the first half directly before the interval and the second half at the very end of the gala.  This is an effective format for them in this particular show, both to increase the suspense of their story and ensure that their numbers and theatrics do not overwhelm the other performers.  Illusionists are a staple of traditional magic, but Magus Utopia’s fantasy aesthetic aligns them with modern trends in popular culture, and the emphasis on the plot of their act gives new life to old magic tropes.

The audience returns from the interval to MC Hammersmith, a freestyle rapper comedian.  Such a large proportion of his spoken comedy relies on stereotypes that this does make his act occasionally feel outdated, despite his youthful appearance.  However, his freestyle rapping is exciting to witness, as he creates connections between random audience suggestions incredibly rapidly while maintaining the rhythm of his rap.  The improvised comedy of his raps is creative and fresh.

The final performer of the gala is James Freedman, a professional pickpocket.  His skilled demonstration of pick pocketing techniques was enhanced by one of his audience participants, whose absolute astonishment at seeing his possessions in Freedman’s hands gave the rest of the audience a glimpse into what it might feel like to have their pockets picked so thoroughly by Freedman’s nimble fingers.  Freedman proves his mental as well as manual dexterity in an impressive identity theft bit that feels fittingly akin to a magic trick.

MagicFest’s Fast & Furious gala includes an admirable assortment of acts over the course of the production, and it draws strength from this variety to build a lively show.  The diversity of the acts ensures that there is something for everyone.