3 Stars

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.

ANDREW MCKINLAY: NECESSARY LIES

☆☆☆

Andrew McKinlay’s Necessary Lies has found its home in that most archetypical of free fringe venues: the back of a bar.  It’s also an archetypical fringe magic show.  An overarching theme is noticeable and appreciated to bring some shape to the string of tricks that McKinlay performs.  There are the expected unexpected moments of a magic show, and McKinlay is a strong performer, the audience doesn’t see anything to break the illusions. 

A mentalist, McKinlay uses all the classic props and doesn’t shy away from poking fun at himself for it—“It wouldn’t be a mentalist show without notecards and a sharpie”, after all.  ESP shapes are used prominently as well, in a fun sequence in which McKinlay tests whether or not the audience as a collective has the mind reading abilities to tell where he has placed the shapes. 

The small weekday evening audience of the reviewed show bonded over such moments.  Given the size, there were several times that entire audience was involved in a single trick, and even once where the whole group was all up on stage with McKinlay, effectively performing for ourselves.  This temporary sense of community, both in support of McKinlay as the magician of the evening and in response to knowing that we were collectively choosing to be manipulated by him, is the kind of magic that was most difficult to translate to the pandemic era and is a welcome sign of increasing normalcy. 

Necessary Lies has all the classic mentalist ingredients, with a little bit extra structure to make the audience think without asking them to think too hard.  McKinlay brings his full force of energy to even his small weekday shows, easily holding attention in an uncontrollable bar environment.  The Fringe going audience could do a whole lot worse than spend an hour in his company. 

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

PROFESSOR NOVAK’S BIZARRE TALES

☆☆☆

Every year, the Fringe features an overwhelmingly gigantic array of shows. While in the wake of the pandemic it has fallen slightly short of the record, from the individual perspective this year feels no different. If you venture off the beaten path to a venue that is new this year, perhaps to a late night show on a Monday evening, you may end up the sole audience member at your chosen event.  If you’re lucky the performer will deal with this as gracefully and professionally at Professor Novak in Professor Novak’s Bizarre Tales.  Staged in a disused section of the Omni Centre (one of the cooler PBH venues this year) at a relatively late time slot, it stands to reason that Professor Novak sees a slump in attendees on an evening early in the work week.  However, this is a shame, as his Bizarre Tales are well thought through and performed with enthusiasm, regardless of the audience size. 

These tales are loosely tied together by the character of Professor Novak, who guides the audience through his mystical curiosities.  It’s a magic show, and magic tricks are employed as evidence of the mysterious properties of these objects, but what sets this show apart is the storytelling, which draws the audience in to the world that Novak creates.  While a couple of prop issues keep it from perfection, the audience barely notices or minds.  Psychic cards, boards that communicate with the spirit realm, and mystical boxes serve to highlight key moments in the tales.  It ends on an interesting, original note that subverts the expectations of even frequent attendees of magic shows, and especially admirably, comes to a satisfying conclusion without the cliched reveal that the magician knew everything that happened before it did.

Even while maintaining a slightly zany character, Novak does not come across as threatening to his audience, and even manages to build a good rapport through the eccentricities of his persona.  He uses the roles of participants to uplift the audience in addition to the traditional eyes of the public up close to the trick.  This is a different challenge with just one audience member, but not necessarily an easier one, and Novak rises to it with apparent ease. 

Professor Novak’s Bizarre Tales has evidentially been underrated as at the evening of the reviewed performance.  It’s one of the better scripted magic shows, performed very enthusiastically regardless of audience size, and definitely deserves a larger audience.  While perhaps not one for those who value a magic show based on concentration of tricks, it’s great for those who want to listen to spooky stories, with the odd magical twist.  

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

SIMON SOUTH: MID FRINGE MIRACLES

☆☆☆

Surprise plot twists and big reveals can make for exciting entertainment, but sometimes it’s nice to go in to a show knowing what to expect and having those expectations perfectly matched.  Simon South’s Mid Fringe Miracles is that kind of magic show.  There’s no theme, philosophizing, or plotline to unify the magic, but it’s done well, and South is an engaging entertainer to watch onstage. 

South utilizes a range of magic tricks that tend toward the classical.  There is even a multitude of brightly colored scarves – spot on for a perfect caricature of a magician.  A brief bout of mind reading touches on the lack of women in magic, an important point in this often homogenous industry, but does not dwell on it.  A highlight is a very pretty effect involving smoke, fire, and a couple of glasses.  South here shows a modern creativity in prop choice, using an e-cigarette to create the smoke. 

This odd Fringe has often resulted in unusually reduced audiences, and South unfortunately fell victim to this circumstance.  However, he made the most of those who were there.  A couple of individual disruptions, including one poor soul who came in expecting a rapper and left when he realized he was at a magic show, failed to derail South’s performance, as South cheerfully commented on the interruption and returned to his act.  The smaller audience size means that absolutely everyone participates, creating an intimate communal atmosphere. 

Mid Fringe Miracles is just about as quintessentially magic as it can get.  Trick follows trick and South guides us through them with an unendingly chipper flow of jokes and stories.  It’s the comfort food of magic shows, and in a year of so many real life plot twists and unexpected changes maybe this is exactly what magic fans will want. 

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

ANDREW MCKINLAY: PERSPECTIVE

☆☆☆

The titular theme of Perspective is mentioned briefly in Andrew McKinlay’s show, but not really well explored.  This appears to be intentional and probably for the best.  At the reviewed show he certainly didn’t get much of the kind of audience who would be willing to follow along with a big theme.  There are hints of a more thoughtful kind of show that McKinlay might have put together for a different time slot, that would definitely be of interest to see at a future Fringe. 

There will always be increasing numbers of drunk people at Fringe shows as the night goes on.  In Perspective Andrew McKinlay appears to have embraced his fate, as one of the later slots at a venue with a great drinks menu, of having to deal with high numbers of drunk people in his audience.  This is what is showcased of his skill set.  And the magic is nice too, it’s a solid foundation for McKinlay to use to corral the drinkers into a reluctant audience willing to cooperate with his show. 

McKinlay uses a variety of sleight of hand and mentalist tricks throughout the set.  These are performed well enough, certainly for the composition of the audience.  The crowd was especially fond of an effect early in the show, in which McKinlay invites a range of participants on to the stage to draw a face, after which he attempts to match the drawing to the individual who drew it.  It is perhaps indicative of the evening that the participants’ antics drew more of a reaction from the audience than McKinlay’s successful completion of the effect. 

As will be evident from the preceding paragraphs of this review, McKinlay faced a challenging audience at the reviewed show – weirdly drunk for a Tuesday evening and entirely unafraid to heckle frequently.  McKinlay handled them like the professional that he is.  It was actually difficult to gauge how disruptive the audience was while sitting in the show, as McKinley was so adept at responding to them and redirecting the audience’s attention that the progress of the show flowed smoothly around the many interruptions.  It is in hindsight that it is clear how hard he was working to make his show look so effortless. 

Perspective may not change the audience’s perspective of much.  But McKinlay knows what he’s dealing with and delivers a solid magic show, to amaze even the most drunk of Fringe-goers regardless of whether they want to be amazed or not. 

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

ALEX KOUVATAS: SOMETHING IS MISSING

☆☆☆

In a field where puns abound, Alex Kouvatas stands out as a master of their usage.  He sets the tone early in Something is Missing, bringing out the fish as promised.  Kouvatas is fantastic with his humour, charm with his audience, and in bringing his own take to his magic. However, he falters markedly in stitching the elements of his show together. 

Kouvatas performs a succession of magic and mentalist tricks, personalized to his style and performance.  His take on making an audience member’s money disappear is a fun example which he uses to bookend the show, but maybe even more fun is the fairly standard card trick which he adds his own ending to, preserving the magic for those who have seen the first part of the trick before.  He is warm with his participants, even explaining a pandemic-polite contact free hug at the end of a trick. 

Unfortunately Kouvatas struggles slightly, most notably in his transitions and confidence.  These two points of issue seemed to feed into each other, but as the show goes on, he appears to gain some confidence and transition more smoothly between tricks.  In addition, Something is Missing brings up interesting topics like dissonance between social norms of success and personal feelings of fulfillment that don’t get the time in the show to feel fully explored, but sound worth exploring. 

What seems to be is missing from Kouvatas’s show it is time and practice.  He suits the stage, shows an impressive degree of creativity in how he performs his tricks, and hints at an inclination to integrate broader themes in to his work.  He is certainly a magician to keep one’s eye on in the future.

Any Fringe debut is a huge achievement.  Making his Fringe debut during this weird pandemic Fringe must take an unbelievable amount of courage, for which Kouvatas deserves commendation.  And while his show could do with fine tuning, his wit and charm make him worth a visit this year.  

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

MAGICFEST OPENING NIGHT CHRISTMAS GALA

☆☆

Despite the name, the MagicFest Opening Night Christmas Gala wasn’t necessarily the most Christmassy of experiences. But festivity aside, if one was in search for an eclectic display of extraordinary magic, the show definitely met those expectations.

Kevin Quantum was the perfect compere, putting the audience at ease from the start with slick card tricks and groovy dancing. Quantum’s expertise shone when a particularly difficult child participant threatened to derail the show. The way in which Quantum humoured the child whilst telling a completely different story to the audience was something only the best in the business could pull off. Quantum’s love for magic and the acts was admirable and ensured the audience was as excited as he was for each set.

The first act, Matthew Dowden, performed an array of traditional magic tricks that were well executed. Simple tricks that would have been less exciting had Dowden performed them himself were elevated by the use of audience participants. Particularly memorable was the gobsmacked look on a skeptical child’s face after they were left on stage to perform a trick’s finale alone – a bold risk that only a confident magician would be willing to take.

The highlight of the night was Young Magician of the Year 2019, Adam Black. The only act to tell a story through his tricks, he ensured that his set was cohesive rather than simply a demonstration of impressive magic. Black is a natural on the stage and his passion for magic shone brightly throughout. Black has a quality that is hard to put your finger on. He simply does something a little bit different, something a little bit special. He performed tricks that you had never seen before, and even if you had seen others do the tricks previously, the way he performed them was ingenious.

Powerful Chloe Crawford added an element of danger to the evening with a couple of gruesome tricks that the audience could only watch through their fingers. Crawford’s stage presence was especially notable, allowing her to perform her entire routine without uttering a single word. Particularly remarkable was the way in which, in total silence, she gained the trust of her participants and convinced them to join her in taking dangerous risks on stage. With a silent set, however, people watch Crawford’s expressions intently. She would do well to maintain her calm and confident expression even when things may not be going fully to plan, as with talent like hers, she will surely always skillfully resolve any issues- as she did on the night.

Your deepest darkest thoughts are not safe with concluding act, Colin Cloud, around! Cloud’s mind reading skills are simply unbelievable – he drew out numerous pieces of detailed information from various audience members with such pace that the audience did not even have time to applaud his efforts. Instead, they could only sit in a stunned silence. What makes Cloud’s performance most impressive is the sheer volume of information he extracts from the room in such a short amount of time – and the way he does it too, through taste and smell, is cunning.

Overall, the MagicFest Opening Night Christmas Gala was a thrilling evening of diverse acts. This diversity was, however, perhaps to the detriment of the show, which ultimately lacked cohesion under a common theme. But although lacking in that particular Christmas magic, it nonetheless satisfied the cravings of magic enthusiasts.

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.