3 Stars

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.

WIZARD WORLD GATHERING

☆☆☆

MagicFest’s Wizard World Gathering has incredible potential as an event.  Harry Potter is obviously hugely popular, and magicians are ideally suited to bring the magic of Harry Potter into the muggle world.  There are certainly elements of the Wizard World Gathering that rise to the occasion.  The décor is incredibly detailed, the food and drink vendors have an admirable commitment to the theme, and framing the magic shows as “lessons” is an excellent way to create Hogwarts magic from stage magic.  However, the magicians themselves do not feel consistently committed to the Harry Potter theme, preventing it from being a cohesive event, and a few issues in the arrangement of the night detract slightly from its success.

The magic shows begin with R Paul Wilson’s “Expert Magic”.  From the start this is an outlier to the claimed theme, lacking in relevance to Harry Potter.  But to his credit, Wilson’s act itself is suitably entertaining; displaying his range of coin tricks and pickpocket-based card tricks.  Wilson may have misjudged the venue when planning one of his final tricks, which features him and several volunteers seated around a table.  Due to the layout of the theatre this is difficult to see, even from the middle of the audience.  The final effect is nevertheless impressive.

Kevin Quantum’s “Levitation Demonstrations” has an appreciably more Harry Potter theme.  Quantum takes a science fiction approach to this fantasy world, framing his show as his quest to discover a scientific means to levitate.  One of his tricks involving audience volunteers is really more of a trust exercise than a proper magic trick, which makes it all the more remarkable that Quantum is able to seamlessly include it in his act.  Quantum’s act feels less like a collection of tricks and more like a coherent theatrical production, with an admirable blend of his own magical style with the theme given to him.

“Time Travel 101” with John Henry Blackwood unfortunately often feels more hindered than helped by its theme.  Blackwood spends an inordinate amount of the middle of his act on a trick involving a toy plunger that is charming enough in and of itself but is only very loosely related to his own time travel concept.  However, he begins and ends with tricks that do genuinely use his theme to enhance the overall effect.  The stickers on the trunk that he uses as a table and the deathly hallows charm on his clothing are a lovely nods to the aesthetic of the evening.

Magic aside, there are a few issues that came up with the Wizard World Gathering itself.  As attendants enter the Assembly Roxy they are handed tickets with a couple of timings of the magic shows, but it is not explained that it is necessary to bring the ticket to that show time to be guaranteed a seat.   Many who were new to MagicFest took these timings as suggestions or reminders, and in the absence of an official explanation it fell to those who had attended previous similar MagicFest events to explain the system.  Also, in spite of the online description of the event as a party, the event really still feels like a series of magic shows.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but not what one is led to expect. There are few other activities in the central hall, and some are unexpectedly shut over an hour before the end of the event.  Additionally the Harry Potter quiz, while fun, could have done with a few more challenging questions.

That being said, the attention to detail in the decoration of the venue is absolutely fantastic.  The central hall is decorated as the Great Hall, and includes an intricately set up photo backdrop.  The common room, where the quiz is held, features a wall papered in book-print, and the bathroom even includes a snake sticker by one of the taps.  These details create a delightful atmosphere that is a highlight of the event.  Creating the right atmosphere is so crucial to events like this one, and for its flaws there are moments when attendees at the Wizard World Gathering feel truly transported to Hogwarts.

THE SECRET GIFT – EXTRA (DRUNK) REVIEW

☆☆☆

Disclaimer: The “real” review of MagicFest’s Christmas show can be found here. But, we had an extra reviewer in Edinburgh keen to see the show, and once upon a time a reviewer joked to our Editor-in-Chief, “hey what if we did drunk reviews for shows as second reviews” and, terrifyingly, our Editor-in-Chief took this joke seriously. Enjoy! 

I went to see the secret gift. A MagicFest production for the Christmas season. Kevin Quantum is the compare and has come on in leaps and bounds since I saw him hosting  MagicFest. Edinburgh is the stage back drop and there are lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling and the whole theatre is beautiful to start. Admittedly, as I am drunk reviewing my first thoughts are “Pretty… why am I here? Oh yes, Magic!”.

Kevin made champagne from thin air, then introduced “The Art of Illusion” a Scottish illusion team. Male and female. Steryotypical magic tricks, woman in box disappears; but I have never seen that done before and it is breathtaking. They are an attractive pair, strong and able, and perfectly suited to the stage. The magicians assistant did not shy from the spot light. The one area that could have used a different trick was between sets the male magician pulled a long cord from his mouth, from my perspective all I could think was “TAPEWORM”!” I think there needed to be a break but something different to a tapeworm could be used.The show focused around using sex to distract from what was going on. A clever trick in some respects.

The next act is the hilarious Professor Kelso. He has a Shakespearean excellence about him. His voice, his act, it is all hilarious before the magic starts. He says he is a hypnotist, no! a magician no! a mind reader! No!  Magician! It is a great beginning. He has the costume and the voice and the act. But then he moved to cheap fortune telling. That could have been different. He has so much going for him but I found the reading of the audience dull and unrewarding. Well done, after 20 questions you have the correct answer. He has a lot of talent to be on the stage but needs to move away from fortunes. You are not a grandmother Professor Kelso!

There was an act before the interval from caberet rather than magic but let me tell you! It is magical to me! My mind is blown. The Bubble Poet came on stage with his act, and though I know what is happening, it is amazing! He is a stage artiste! He can make magic happen before your eyes in coloured smoke and dish detergent. Phenomenal.

After the interval Kevin worked his magic with his introduction, then brought on stage a rather interesting Spaniard by name “David Blanco”. By this point I was somewhat intoxicated and found David to play on his race rather more than necessary. He was a slight of hand magician who also performed card tricks. Inticially I thought “typical, playing on suggestion, and playing on accents” but he is very amusing. And very good at what he does. He uses his “foreign-ness” to his advantage.

Professor Kelso is back on stage to perform the “12 days of Magic”. He is so good at the piano it is a shame to see him go to waste filling time like this. It was caberet but not especially special or interesting. The “12 days of Christmas” or whatever is done! Move on. Kelso is an excellent character who deserves lots of time in the sun performing interesting pieces for the mind, not for the child.

Kevin came back and performed a hilarious piece about mind wandering. Where is the ball? Here or here? Used sexual tension as a joke which seemed cheap but followed up with pure quality misdirection. He misdirected you here, so you didn’t notice the misdirection over there. Very well done. Huge amounts of showmanship, and I would like to learn a trick or two from you. Producing lemons! Amazing!

Finally “The Art of Illusion” came back on stage. A winner to begin but now at the end (after a few drinks) it’s clichéd and over done. The beautiful assistant being your distraction, really!? I’d like to see the same show performed with a man. It was well done, steryotypical tricks, which I think modern theatre is lacking. But what modern theatre is also lacking is equality. Wearing leather boots does not equal tiny Santa costume. You are good at being a magician. Don’t diminish it by being a sexist.

Overall a wonderful show. I saw MagicFest and this was a level beyond. Well done, well performed.

 

CHAMPIONS OF MAGIC

☆☆☆

The British have a long history of invading America, in so many different ways. But one of the most unexpected invasions to date (although this is perhaps up for debate) is that of the British magicians. Having spent several years touring throughout the UK, the Champions of Magic have arrived on US soil in an attempt to internationally stun and amaze and triumph, as any good champion should- and as these five magicians have.

Although a team effort, the strength of the Champions is not in any form of group chemistry or magic genre alignment- the Champions almost never share the stage (with the exception of double act Young & Strange) and they perform very distinct styles of trickery. No, instead, their power is instead in representing all the relationships an audience member can have with magic.

‘Magic as wonder’ is exemplified by Edward Hilsum, a remarkable magician with terrifyingly adept fingers. In his first act totally mute, and even after that quite reserved in patter, Hilsum still manages to create the kind magic that makes his audience fall similarly silent in enchanted awe as objects appear and disappear effortlessly in front of their eyes.

For Fay Presto, the relationship inspired is perhaps more ‘magic as nostalgia’ or even ‘magic as a cultural institution.’ The tricks are classic and the humor is dry, and a beat too sharp for the audience- although we all get the joke, albeit a few seconds too late, but if you can keep up Presto leaves you as amused as impressed with her magical manipulations.

The mind reader of the Champions, naturally, is responsible for ‘magic as a challenge’, perhaps the most engaging relationship of them all. There’s always something a little bit combative between magicians and the audience- the man or woman on stage is there to trick us, after all, and everyone wants to be astute enough to catch them in the act. But nothing is more tricky than when they can even see into your mind- as Alex McAller seems to do. Bouncing from knowing the cards you have to the item you’ll pick to the names and words safely stored only in your memory, McAleer’s effusive energy makes him impossibly charming despite the frustration he inspires by being far too clever. If McAleer wasn’t on the top of his game at the Waukegan, IL show, then he has far too much game for one man.

Finally, the most important relationship, ‘magic as the joke’, is supplied by Richard Young and Sam Strange. While most the Champions are funny in their own ways, Young & Strange take the humor of the art to a whole new level. Filled with a laddish arrogance that the audience is delighted by despite themselves, this duo purposefully makes their illusions utterly ridiculous but in the best possible way, throwing grand illusions at the audience while simultaneously refusing to take themselves even a tiny bit seriously.

The Champions of Magic, despite gamely sharing this triumphant title, are more accurately four magic shows in one. Although this does create a little stylistic whiplash, we are ultimately fortunate for it, for there’s something for everyone and anyone to appreciate in this artful, magical experience.

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC MOMENTS

☆☆☆

Elliot Bibby performs his limited edition “Magic Moments” show just a few times over the course of the Fringe, making it quite the hot commodity of Fringe magical performances. This fun and fast paced show incorporates a range of both mind reading and sleight of hand illusions, making for an overall enjoyable evening.

“Magic Moments” is a particularly flashily theatrical experience, which sets it apart from many of the more subtle Fringe magic shows. It is easy to see that he took inspiration from Las Vegas, where he confides having spent time performing. Bibby’s opening mind reading trick is an amusing start to the show. He add the nice touch of calling upon several audience volunteers to come to the stage as a group relatively early on in the show, making their role in the performance less intimidating to take part in. The success of trick in particular is dependent on the volunteers’ choices, but Bibby is adept at using what is given to him to keep his audience entertained.

Bibby continues through a varied selection of card tricks. He frequently asks audience members to sign a card of their choosing, as insurance that he is not using any multi-deck trickery to make his magic tricks easier—a fairly common practice that Bibby seems especially fond of. The variety and fast pace of Bibby’s card tricks make this an especially lively segment of the show. One segment that perhaps goes on for slightly too long involves a recorded narration of the trick that Bibby attempts. As the entire joke of this section seems to involve poking fun at Australian accents, it feels increasingly slightly uncomfortable as it continues to linger on. However, gentle cultural mockery aside, Bibby’s humor is lighthearted enough to consistently resonate with the audience, and keeps every moment as magical as promised. Bibby ends the show with a final, excitingly performed card trick to a dramatic sound track, a fittingly flamboyant conclusion to his show. 

“Magic Moments” is a worthwhile show to experience, marked by the pleasantly flashy performance style that Bibby brings to the Fringe. His magic tricks are expertly and entertainingly performed, delighting all his audiences. 

DAVID NARAYAN: THE PSYCHIC PROJECT

☆☆☆

At heart, David Narayan’s “The Psychic Project” is an incredibly fun history lesson.  Narayan illuminates his audience on some of the weirder aspects of Cold War history in this uniquely formatted magic show.

Narayan guides the audience through several basic magic tricks that have their roots in the Cold War era. Magic fans may recognize the series of five cards with different shapes, or have seen some variation of the dangerous bag trick in other shows. Some might have even heard brief explanations of these props from other magicians. For most magicians, however, historical explanation is just used as a few seconds to ground their take on the trick in magical history. For Narayan, on the other hand, the magical past is the central point of his show. The audience gets to hear much more in-depth explanations of the history behind the magic, and watch Narayan re-create the original versions of each trick with audience volunteers.

As this act combines both magic and history, it is best appreciated by those who enjoy both of those things. The historical narrative places the series of tricks in context, and the addition of the illusions in turn brings that historical narrative to life. It understandably appeared reasonably popular with parents and children on the day of the debut performance, as it is both an entertaining and educational show. The magic is interspersed with both Narayan’s historical lectures and a slideshow presentation on the relevant Cold War scientists, complete with audio of pertinent facts and quotes.

In a fitting tribute to history, the final couple of illusions focus on dangerous magic. The scientists who developed the techniques discussed were doing so to ultimately create better methods of hurting their enemies, after all. This does make the show more specifically geared toward those who prefer to watch magic for the thrill rather than for the wonder, but all benefit from the stark look at wartime magic. These final elements do contain an unexpectedly playful moment, however, blessedly lightening the mood. 

Narayan’s “The Psychic Project” is a fascinating combination of magic and history. Fans of both, but especially of magical history, are sure to find this show exceptionally engaging.

AARON CALVERT: AWAKEN

☆☆☆

A popular mind reading magician, Aaron Calvert starts his “Awaken” show by correctly deducing what several members of his audience are thinking, as all good mentalists should. However, the main part and highlight of his performance is his hypnosis. This seems like the reason why he draws such a huge crowd at midday, as massive queues flock to his sizable venue, everyone fascinated and eager to be hypnotized.

Calvert begins his hypnosis segment with a bi-tonal sound that, combined with his verbal prompting, is designed to lull the susceptible members of his audience into a state of hypnosis. The benefits of this segment are not entirely lost on those of us who are less susceptible. The tone used is quite relaxing, and Calvert’s voice is pleasant and calming.

The success of this segment is, of course, dependent on Calvert finding enough suitable audience members to hypnotize. Calvert leads them on to the stage and puts them through a series of tasks to demonstrate that they are indeed under his sway. None of these tasks are difficult or embarrassing, and this portion of the act comes off more as a pseudo-scientific experiment to demonstrate Calvert’s abilities rather than a spectacle to entertain the audience at the expense of the participants—a welcome approach.

Calvert also makes an effort to include a flashier bit of hypnosis in his show. He guides one of his hypnotized subjects to pop a balloon through the power of negative thought. Here he again exhibits his care for his audience, making sure to calm his participant from this state of heightened negativity before restoring her mind to her own control.

The finale of the show, once all of the hypnotized individuals have been released from that condition, is designed to showcase Calvert’s ability to predict the group decisions of his entire audience, regardless of each individual’s susceptibility to hypnosis. However, it feels a bit rushed—perhaps, on this day, the other sections of the show took longer than expected—and the audience is left a bit confused as to whether Calvert actually achieved his goal or just shuffled things around a bit to make it look like they were in the right place.

“Awaken” is certainly an enjoyable show for fans of hypnosis. Any imperfections in Calvert’s mentalism are quickly forgotten, for Calvert is a talented performer whose showmanship makes him fun to watch on stage. In any case, an audience coming for hypnotic feats will leave well satisfied with their experience.