3 Stars

MICHAEL RAJASINGAM: AN AWKWARD MAGICIAN WITH A LEMON

☆☆

As he admits in the title of his show, Michael Rajasingam is awkward in An Awkward Magician with a Lemon.  Luckily for the audience, it is a relatable, humorous type of awkwardness that adds charm to Rajasingam’s performance.  Rajasignam spends plenty of time in his show allowing this humor to take center stage.  His magic tricks are entertaining as well, although perhaps not so consistently, and he does occasionally have trouble combining the comic and magic aspects of his performance.

There are several points in the show in which Rajasingam successfully combines his magic tricks with his performance.  The recurring motif of the lemon is a fun acknowledgement of the title of his show.  In an unrelated moment, Rajasingam takes the time to tell a sweet story about his family as he performs a coin trick.  This unexpectedly heartwarming routine is a break from the overall awkward humor that nevertheless harmonizes well with the rest of the show.

Unfortunately, Rajasingam’s performance of his other tricks is not always so impressive.  There are a few times that he is noticeably distracted from the thread of his show to focus on getting a trick right.  At other times, his sleight of hand is lacking, and his props might be visible at the wrong times.  Both of these flaws simply require more practice to perfect his skills and integrate them with his performance.

The awkwardness of Rajasingam’s performance allows his relationship with his audience participants to develop a little bit more easily, as it is difficult to feel conspicuously awkward when standing on stage beside Rajasingam.  Audience participants quickly feel at ease.  Rajasingam is kind to those who he invites to join him, using them to demonstrate his tricks while still ensuring that they get to see the full extent of the magic.

While Rajasingam’s performance is not perfect, he is dependably entertaining and fun to watch.  He uses his awkwardness as a character quirk rather than allowing it to hinder his performance.  Rajasingam’s mistakes are only momentary, the overall effect of his show is delightful.

 

 

More information on Michael Rajasingam and his performance dates can be found here

PAUL REGAN: ILLUSIONS OF DEPRESSION

Dangerous situations are relatively common in certain types of magic performances.  Usually, the magician at least tries to find the right balance to ensure that the audience does not feel too uncomfortable or worried about them.  In Illusions of Depression, Paul Regan consciously blasts right past those boundaries.  He does not do this solely for the shock value, but uses the discomfort that he creates to make his points about society as a whole and societal views of mental health specifically.  Regan starts his show with a trigger warning that is perhaps worth publicizing to those considering attending Illusions of Depression, that it does discuss themes of mental illness, self-harm, and suicide.*

Regan starts out relatively gently, performing his creative take on a classic dangerous magic trick.  He uses that trick and his enhancement of it to lead into his discussion of a bit of basic social psychology.  This is by no means an exhaustive lecture on the topic that he brings up, but he does present an admirably balanced view given the inherent time constraints of his show.  His performance becomes both more dangerous and more personal as it progresses.  He continues in his examination of societal issues, but also talks at greater length about his personal mental health struggles.

That being said, he has a few lovely moments.  An early sleight of hand trick becomes a charming analysis of the importance of interpersonal connections, and equally the importance of accepting that varying degrees of individual differences mean that some might stand out from a crowd more than others.  This is a delightful demonstration of Regan’s fantastic fusion of magic with the stories that he tells. Regan is also caring in his interactions with his audience—which is perhaps especially appropriate given his theme of mental health.  He generally requests volunteers, especially for the more involved participant roles.  Regan has an especially touching bit with one participant toward the end, using mind reading tropes in an especially conscientious manner.

There are a few issues in Regan’s sleight of hand work, with the odd prop noticeable at the wrong time.  This is occasionally briefly distracting, but his performance is multifaceted enough to cover for any such errors.

In Illusions of Depression, Regan uses magic effectively to make his case about mental health.  His dangerous stunts do often go further than is really necessary to convey this case to his audience.  The audience gets the impression that, to a certain extent, this excessive danger is included in the show for Regan’s benefit rather than their own.  If that is truly the case then I genuinely hope that Regan gets what he is looking for out of his run at the Fringe.

 

* Note: Paul Regan’s flyers do include a trigger warning.

Paul Regan can be found at Tolbooth Market during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:15 from August 24-25

More information on Paul Regan and his performance dates can be found here

BEN DALI: TRANCE OF A LIFETIME

One thing is clear from the title of Ben Dali’s show, Trance of a Lifetime: his amazing commitment to terrible puns.  He has, in fact, had three years of Fringe hypnotism shows with similarly pun-based titles, which he lists at the start of this show.  All of them are equally fantastic.  The actual content of his show provokes more mixed reactions.

Unlike many hypnotist shows that ease the audience into things with some mind reading, Dali heads straight into the hypnotism.  He also limits his hypnotic participants to volunteers who choose to step on to the stage at the start of the show, rather than attempting to hypnotize the entire audience.  This is a great way to ensure that his participants are fully willing—although arguably even if he had gone for the whole audience approach he would still only get willing participants, as the unwilling would fight the trance state.  It did leave him open to unsuccessfully hypnotized participants playing along for fun, and indeed several such individuals left the stage at various points in the show.

It is perhaps unimportant that several participants played along in the show for a while as Dali’s methods for demonstrating his hypnotic influence are entirely based on getting his participants to put on a spectacle for the remainder of his audience.  This often involves getting them to perform actions that are presumably so embarrassing that they would be unwilling to go through with them if not for the hypnosis.  It does at times, however, almost feel like a caricature of hypnotism at its creepiest and most manipulative.

To his credit, Dali is careful to ensure that his hypnotism is only extended to the consenting adults who have chosen to step on to his stage.  At the reviewed performance, two young girls were mimicking the participants as they entered the trance state.  Dali took the time to check on them and establish that they had definitely not fallen under his sway.

Dali’s comedic hypnotism is a specific style that, if his crowds on a Tuesday evening are anything to go by, is very popular.  He is certainly good at what he does.  It is likely that those who attend his show in the hopes of being hypnotized, or gawking at those who have been, will not be disappointed.

 

Ben Dali can be found at Liquid Rooms Annexe (Venue 276) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 22:00 from August 23-26

More information on Ben Dali and his performance dates can be found here

DREAMER BY SAM FITTON

☆☆

The opening animation sets the tone perfectly for Sam Fitton’s Dreamer—good, silly fun, like a perfectly planned magical dream.  While Fitton is a personable performer and Dreamer is notable for its creativity, there is room for improvement in its execution.

If there is a theme to Dreamer, it is Fitton’s wacky magical perception of everyday life.  This is epitomized in his opening sequence, which features Fitton struggling through his morning routine as the implements of his daily life transform into illusions.  His use of real-life props in his tricks integrates them into the vignette.  The tricks are often common, but Fitton has put them together into a charming storyline.

Fitton’s friendly stage presence is felt at every turn.  As is common in magic shows, Dreamer requires audience participation, but in one section Fitton plays with this standard by involving the entire audience, firing props into the crowd and teaching everyone a simple magic trick.  I, for one, was surprised by how amused I was with this, and found myself repeating the trick over and over for my own entertainment for the rest of the day.  It was a lovely reminder of the joyful wonder that Fitton radiates with every movement.

Not every audience member is so lucky, and in another section Fitton pulls someone from the crowd and throws them into his script with no warning.  It is perhaps inarguably true that all members of the audience at a magic show must be prepared to be called upon to assist the magician, but it is equally the duty of the magician to make those called upon feel safe in their temporary spotlight.  Fortunately on that afternoon the participant for this section appeared unfazed.  However, the rest of the audience may have felt justifiably wary of helping Fitton for the rest of the show.

This issue was confined to a single section of Dreamer, but general issues with Fitton’s execution of his tricks were less constrained.  There are moments when the audience catches glimpses of the mechanics behind Fitton’s magic, which is, on occasion, a little bit distracting from the overall performance.

These performance problems aside, Dreamer is delightful.  Its whimsical framework for Fitton’s magic tricks is consistently inventive and engaging.  Fitton is promisingly creative and reliably fun to watch.

 

Sam Fitton can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:25 from August 21-25

More information on Sam Fitton and his performance dates can be found here

LUKE CLOSELY: A MUSICIAN DOING MAGIC!

☆☆

It’s challenging to stand out from the hoard of Edinburgh Fringe magicians, but Luke Closely has found an interesting way, and it’s not just his preciously punnish name. (Luke Closely? Like Look Closely? Get it? Don’t worry, he’ll make sure you do.) The twist, rather, is that Closely is the Fringe’s one and only musical magician. The combination of these two talents makes A Musician Doing Magic! a unique and intriguing experience.

Fingers Piano Bar is, quite obviously by it’s name, and apt venue for the musical side of this show. Less so apt for magic, with pillars and tucked in booths, but Closely does well working with the particularities of his venue, instructing his audience of where to avoid sitting and making sure to elevate anything he was working with sufficiently. He also demonstrates admirably his musical talent, especially his keyboard skills. Closely overtly has a deep and ebullient passion for music, and his naked enthusiasm is inspiring and makes his show all the better.

Unfortunately, Closely seems to struggle with some of the magic side of his show, at least during the performance reviewed. The integration of the two talents is thoughtfully done, including a mind reading trick involving audience member’s favourite bands, and a trick involving his own (attempting to) play an instrument. But Closely flubs through his tricks a few times, and isn’t able to cover the mistakes up. To his credit, the mistakes never make him falter, and he is able to at least brush them off and move on with the performance without drawing attention to the problems. His confidence here is impressive and turns moments where his show could have gone off track into an opportunity to get the empathy of his audience.

A Musician Doing Magic! is a show with a great concept and an genial performer, and has definite potential to be a solidly entertaining production. There’s no better time that the Edinburgh Fringe to work through material with largely supportive audiences, and with a little more practice, Luke Closely definitely has a fantastic show in the making.

 

Luke Closely can be found at Fingers Piano Bar (Venue 221) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:10 from August 21-26

More information on Luke Closely and his performance dates can be found here

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

More information on Chris Dugdale and his performance dates can be found here

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.

 

More information on Michael Brandie and his performance dates can be found here