3 Stars

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.

CRAIG STEPHENSON: MAGIC, MIND READING, AND TELERABBITRY

Craig Stephenson risks being easily dismissed as gimmicky by framing the majority of Magic, Mind Reading, and Telerabbitry around the conceit that a stuffed bunny toy is his performance partner.  However, he cleverly chose a very cute gimmick, so it pointing out is less of a criticism and more of an adorable fact.  Mr B is introduced at the very beginning of the show, and while he is sadly sat by the side of the stage for a fair amount of the middle (Stephenson explains part of this absence as Mr B being made nervous by the scarier tricks), he does play an important role in the final reveal.

Stephenson’s other gimmick is that he claims to be the only magician of the Fringe who will prove that he cannot do magic or read minds.  He does follow through on explaining some of the simpler processes behind the tricks, but anyone who has seen nearly any other magician will recognize this as a common tactic used to make the magician’s more complex tricks look all the more astonishing.  Stephenson does inevitably fall into this convention.  It works as it should, the following feats do indeed have more impact after his initial explanations, but this does make his initial claim sound pointless in hindsight.

This is especially the case as Stephenson’s magical abilities speak for themselves.   The majority of his effects emphasize mentalism over sleight of hand.  His mind reading using various written materials is solidly impressive, and his version of Russian roulette is scary enough even without the use of firearms.

Stephenson is a strong enough performer, especially as a family-oriented magician.  His use of a bunny toy prop seems to indicate that he has embraced this strength.  At the end of the show Stephenson mentions that while he does not read his reviews, Mr B the bunny does read them.  So, in that spirit… Great job, Mr B!  You deserve an extra carrot tonight!

 

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

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC IN A JIFFY

☆☆

As magic show themes go, Elliot Bibby’s for Magic in a Jiffy is the most instantly relatable.  Who among us has never had trouble with buying things online?  Bibby covers common pitfalls, from a late delivery delaying important plans and buying something that arrives looking not quite how you expect.

While many of Bibby’s tricks use techniques that fans of magic might find familiar, each one is impressively tailored to fit his theme.  Bibby reads minds using the names of large companies with a focus on those in the shipping industry—albeit with an anecdote about McDonald’s that much of the audience seems to have no idea how to respond to—and predicts a second participant’s random choice with the help of a magically speedy Amazon delivery.  This is even noticeable in the little moments.  Many magicians make the exact same joke about sniffing their markers, so Bibby’s take on this theme is a fun surprise and perfectly suits his onstage character.

At the show reviewed, Bibby unfortunately made an uncharacteristic number of slip-ups in performing his sleight of hand, that an observant audience member would not be able to help but notice.  This was perhaps simply due to illness; Bibby’s voice was noticeably hoarse.  However, aside from those issues, Bibby powered through with an admirable amount of energy.

Bibby interacts with his audience participants with care and respect.  One woman in particular was slightly distressed at the halfway point of a trick involving her bank card, and Bibby quickly switched off his microphone to reassure her.  While this did briefly interrupt the flow of the show, it is commendable that he valued an audience member’s emotional comfort over his own performance.  This moment cut through the stage presence to reveal Bibby as a genuinely good person.

Magic in a Jiffy is charming in its skillful construction and delightful in Bibby’s adept performance.  It is well worthwhile for good fun magic.

 

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

TOM BRACE: BRACE OF SPADES

☆☆

Brace yourself (sorry), Tom Brace’s show Brace of Spades is a whirlwind of fun, playful energy. Brace is a cheerful, exuberant performer whose enthusiasm is a solid match for the family demographic that one can expect at an afternoon magic show. Accordingly, while the show lacks a certain degree of cohesiveness or polish, it is bright and exciting for the youngest elements of the crowd.

Brace performs classic magic effects, but makes them fresh with his own effusive nature. Brace understands that in family magic in particular, the audience does not so much care about him- for an older audience the character of the magician is often an important element of the narrative, but when mostly focusing on children- well, they just want to see the magic. So while Brace’s presentation lacks in the personal, it is because it doesn’t have to.

The tricks themselves are performed with faultless dexterity, and Brace excels at sleight of hand. He also has, for the most part, a charmingly silly banter with the audience. The one occasional misstep in this is his attempt to keep enough cheek in so the adults in the room don’t get bored. At best, jokes about the women brought up for audience participation can be cute enough at first, but become repetitive to the point of irritating as they are recycled several times throughout the show. At worst, they are even unnecessary, as Brace is much more adept at the wholesome chat, and the cheek often seems forced in the first place.

But Brace has enough charm to keep the audience on board, as evidenced by one particular moment of the performance reviewed. At one point, Brace has an audience member on stage who is expected to try to call a friend or family member, live and onstage. Unfortunately, a lot of people are busy in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the participant struggled to do so- but despite this set up taking near twenty minutes when it seems to have probably been planned to last about two, Brace never lets the moment lag, and every attempt and failure is made to be a great source for comedy and audience empathy.

Brace of Spades is a fast-paced and silly magic show, perfect for a family afternoon out.

 

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

 

MAGICAL BONES: BLACK MAGIC

☆☆☆

There is only one hip hop dancing magician at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, but Magical Bones does not rest on the laurels of the uniqueness of this aspect. Rather, in Black Magic, he has created a show that is both fun and thought provoking, and skillfully performed throughout.

The term ‘Black Magic’ is not in reference to sinister sorcery, or folk magic that the west misappropriated and misconstrued. It is instead for his own position as a black magician. Bones gives honor to  his magician role models by performing tricks inspired by them at several parts of the show, and uses his platform to teach his audience about these underappreciated black magicians of the past.

But Bones is not just good in the shadow of others, he’s pure charm all on his own. Even when a trick or two may falter, the magician doesn’t, and his enchanting personality keeps everyone on board.

Bones not only incorporates his dancing skills into his act, but even a little audience education of it in individual tricks. He shares his personal journey into these combined passions through magical effects as many magicians do, but he has a very unique story to tell. Most compelling of all is a beautiful mix of a classic card effect and a song mash up that accompanies it perfectly.

You don’t have to like hip hop to watch Black Magic, but you may find that you do by the end. Magical Bones has created a fresh and surprisingly educational experience, and he never loses a beat.

 

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

ASH PRYCE: PARANORMAL ILLUSIONIST

One of the most common ways of engaging with Spiritualism in its heyday was an intimate parlor session. Just you, the medium, and a few other select attendees. Ash Pryce’s show Paranormal Illusionist, in this sense, is simply picked up and moved from a parlor to the side room of an only slightly busy bar off an only slightly busy street. But even though the masses of Fringe attendees haven’t found it yet – and fair, it was only day one of performances- Paranormal Illusionist delivers an interesting and well-wrought experience.

Exclusivity isn’t the only thing this show has in common with a genuine Spiritualist experience. Pryce has a lot of knowledge to impart about Spiritualist practices, and all of it accurate, with no unnecessary sensationalism. He is demonstrably aware that Spiritualism is compelling on it’s own, if the audience gets to see it happening in their own hands. The illusions of Pananormal Illusions all involve audience participation, but, a comfort to the wary, all of this participation is lowkey and comfortable to take part in. The audience members enjoy getting to interact with each part as much as they do getting to observe them, and are treated with respect from their illusionist for their trouble.

Participating in the show also makes the audience even more aware of Pryce’s skill as a magician (for of course that is what most successful Spiritualists were, magicians telling you one extra lie). Thanks to the strength of his theme, Pryce was able to do magic tricks that come off as unique and original because they are encased in a overarching story, even if that isn’t completely so. And with these tricks, he performs smoothly, keeping his attendee’s attention exactly where he wants it.

Paranormal Illusionist hasn’t found all of it’s audience yet, but when they find it they will find a clever and well crafted show, as educational as it is enjoyable.

 

 

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

 

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE

☆☆

The Miracle of Christmas Future set out a promising premise, advertised as futuristic magic performed by Charlie Caper, with his amazing robots, and Kevin Quantum, whose performances frequently incorporate his love of science.  They easily deliver on this.  While the show was not flawless, it had many magical and scientific highlights.

The most overtly futuristic element of the show is Quantum and Caper’s third performance partner, the artificial intelligence named Bob.  Bob primarily functioned as an emcee for the human magicians, occasionally also rating their performances, and even taking her turn at performing a magic trick.  While she was not convincing enough to make any reviewer or magician fear that they might soon be replaced by robots, her recurring participation in the show alluded to these exciting potentials for the future of AI.

This left the majority of the magic performed in Quantum and Caper’s able hands.  An unexpectedly lovely highlight was Caper reading a sad Christmas story while performing complementary magic.  This was an odd tonal choice, as it briefly brought the otherwise cheerful Christmas mood down several notches.  The apparently random tone shift only highlighted the disjointed nature of the show as a whole, as aside from Bob’s work as a show runner there was little binding the elements performed together.  This particular moment demonstrated that even that futuristic theme occasionally wavered.  However, the beauty of Caper’s performance made its inclusion worthwhile.

The disjointed feel of the show did not just come from the lack of consistent use of theme, but also from the way that Caper and Quantum rarely actually performed together, instead taking turns with their tricks.  This was a shame, as while no pairing could match the perfect connection between Caper and his robots, Quantum and Caper appeared to work well together when they did interact on stage.

Audience participation often seems to be one of the more challenging aspects of magic performance from the perspective of the watching members of the audience, as the wrong randomly chosen individual might not act according to the magician’s plan.  This looked to be the case in Quantum and Caper’s final performance of this run when two children got a little too competitive with their onstage task.  Quantum and Caper dealt this turn of events with professional aplomb.  Quantum was especially impressive in his handling of the unrulier child.

The futuristic theme of The Miracle of Christmas Future comes naturally to both Caper and Quantum.  It could perhaps even be the theme of each one of their individual magical careers.  Watching them collaborate in sharing that passion with the audience was the most magical part of the evening.

 

More information on MagicFest can be found here

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