4 Stars

MAGIC GARETH’S MAGIC EYE

☆☆☆☆

The Edinburgh-renowned Magic Gareth managed all but a full house on a sunny Edinburgh Sunday morning—the first magical feat of the reviewed performance of Magic Gareth’s Magic Eye. The one potential critique of the show is both immediately obvious at the start of the show while not being at all his fault, that due to the shape of the stage and audience layout individuals who chose to sit at the far edges are unable to see Gareth on stage. There is a brief moment of shuffling around when he first comes on, and future audiences are advised to arrive early and get central seats. That being said, the rest of the show—the bits that Gareth has control over—are difficult to fault. Even the smallest members of his audience are happily engaged for the full hour.

Gareth’s magic and child-friendly stunts consistently amaze, and get the whole audience involved. His fun take on Russian roulette culminates in a surprise that, from personal experience, is a refreshing treat for a hot summer day. And when he has an extra special prop to show off he makes sure to run around the whole audience so that everyone gets a chance to touch it. This prop’s use results in one of the visual highlights of the show, featuring Gareth using a hilarious makeshift blindfold to show off his skills without using sight. Cameras came out up and down the audience as everyone wanted their memento.

Given his reputation as a children’s performer it would be expected that Gareth is good with the children in his audience, and he is indeed great with them. He involves the little ones at every possible opportunity, making them feel important without giving them anything too taxing or stressful to do. His final words onstage are especially sweet for the kids, making sure that every single person in his audience leaves the show feeling special.

Magic Gareth is so well known as a children’s performer that even us Edinburghers without children of our own have often heard of him, and in Magic Gareth’s Magic Eye he more than lives up to his reputation. Children’s entertainment doesn’t get much better than this.

More information on Magic Gareth can be found here.

CAMERON GIBSON: MYSTERIES; AN HOUR OF IMPOSSIBILITIES

☆☆☆☆

If previous years’ trends are anything to go by, Fringe goers love watching a beautiful and stylish Scottish mentalist read people’s minds.  For all in search of this, Cameron Gibson is the mentalist to go to this year.  There is more to recommend him than just physical beauty—he is also a funny and compelling performer.  In his wordily titled Mysteries; An Hour of Impossibilities Gibson displays a well structured mentalist show. 

Gibson does not limit himself to mentalism, opting for a classic cup and ball to get the show going, to great success.  A few tipsy audience members who had wandered in apparently entirely aware of what they were getting themselves in for could be heard commenting that Mysteries; An Hour of Impossibilities was already the best show they had seen this year as Gibson set his cup and ball to the side.  The one slight hiccup came in his transition to the more mentalism-themed part of the show, when a supposedly suggestible participant was slightly less suggestible than expected, but Gibson did not miss a beat, and her initial hesitation only made the second step of Gibson’s work with her that much more impressive. 

However the main event is Gibson’s mind reading using personality questionnaires that he had asked the audience to fill in immediately on entering the venue.  The quasi-psychological twist of using personality tests rather than just random bits of information adds interest.  Gibson outlines the personality types of his participants based on their responses, in what he freely admits are horoscope-level generalizations, before accurately mind reading more specific details.  The range of information gleaned and individuals read made for an exciting final segment. 

With a convenient  pre-dinner time slot at the ever popular Voodoo Rooms Gibson is this year’s must-see for the Fringe’s mentalism fans.  An hour in his affable company will only leave audiences wanting more. 

More information on Cameron Gibson can be found here.

LUIS CARREON: LA BESTIA

☆☆☆☆

The Chicago Magic Lounge has a dual identity, and if one comes early to a show, they have the privilege in witnessing both sides. Magicians tend bar while hobbyists and hangers-on chat loudly about their own illusions, their own connections with “big names” in the magic world. Little jokes are made for the purpose of dropping names, and all at a volume intended to let everyone hear but not everyone understand. This bar is not a land for the casual attendee, this is where the diehards reign. That being said, there is a universal appeal here as well- in a venue that one goes through a fake laundromat entrance to access, this is only another sign that you have been accepted into a deliciously secret space, with tantalizing rumors abound.

But let yourself be ushered into the performance space, and your experience develops in a whole different way. Because while the Lounge itself may have two faces, Artist in Residence Luis Carreon is a man utterly secure in his own identity, and eager to invite his audience into experiencing it. This is the identity the Lounge thrives in sharing, the showmanship talent they have done so well cultivating.

Carreon’s pet schtick in his show La Bestia is, to be blunt, his ethnicity. Tricks and jokes alike are formed primarily around his Mexican background. This tactic lends a sense of cohesion to a show where otherwise the stream of tricks would seem picked at random, a collection of standard coin, card and similar familiar effects. However, a well-constructed persona can color a show, but cannot serve as the sole narrative, which Carreon seems to attempt. Carreon delights and charms the audience with ease through his authenticity. A smidge more confidence would seem to be all he needs to free him from overplaying his history and allow him to integrate it into a more developed narrative to build his show around.

Ultimately, Carreon is a talented performer who lacks only a little polish and experience. His comedic timing is clever and refreshing – when he lets it be. Carreon’s audience is captivated by every joke he lets breathe. He need only to stop overfilling his performance with any joke, trick, and pop culture reference he can think of, to stop throwing material at the wall hoping it will stick. The material that the audience gets time and space to absorb does stick, and spectacularly so.

Luis Carreon is a charming performer, and faultlessly adept at sleight of hand. While La Bestia may be at moments bloated with material, one gets the sense that this is because Carreon is so in love with his art that he cannot imagine not sharing his favourite parts of it with his crowd. This openness and delight with communicating the magic of magic wins his audience to him, and deservedly so. La Bestia is an experience well worth attending, and one that will likely only get better each time.  

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

TOM BRACE: EMBRACE THE IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆☆

Tom Brace: Embrace the Impossible is a truly all-ages show. There’s the brightly colored props and exciting flashy effects to keep the kids entertained, and a pleasant nostalgia-fest for us adults—for those of us around Brace’s age, harkening back to a time when we were children ourselves, before we were fully aware of the often disastrous state of the world. The nineties theme runs throughout the show, which goes by quickly. Brace brings plenty of excitement to keep the audience interested.

It is not often that a magician who faces the sheer number of issues outside of his control that Brace faced on the day that this show was reviewed turns this in to such a positive. People both arrived and left late, and he could not have been more graceful about this, allowing both sets of individuals to run across his stage to get to and from the exit efficiently. Brace also had to deal with a dodgy microphone, which turned in to a lovely moment when his friend and techie joined him onstage to fix it. Sadly it did not last, and Brace eventually gave up on the microphone, but with his projection the whole audience could easily still hear him. He did not miss a beat through dealing with all this—perhaps a more impressive skill than any of the magic.

That being said, the magic was excellent as well. A card trick themed on Who Wants to be a Millionaire was a highlight of the show reviewed, with an enthusiastic participant (the very same lady who arrived late carrying two pints) who was happy to let Brace work his way through her phone book to find a friend who would pick up when she called. They found someone, in the end, leading to a much anticipated reveal, although with the onstage chemistry between Brace, his participant, and even her offstage friends, no one in the audience minded the extra long build up.

Just off bustling Bristo Square, Embrace the Impossible in Brace’s fantastic company is a great way to spend an hour of the Fringe, especially but not exclusively for those of us who remember the nineties. It may not be the kind of show that ordinarily comes with a lesson, it’s more of a good time show. However, the reviewed show certainly did—that if you can accept the uncontrollable problems in your life and make the best of it, you may just end up even more memorable than if you get caught up in trying to be perfect. Brace’s audience can safely expect a great show regardless of how much goes wrong around him.

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

LUKE OSELAND: DRUNK MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Luke Oseland is evidentially locally renowned.  Enterprising neighbors of his venue, on noticing the busy queue on the evening that Drunk Magic was reviewed, called down “Would you like to see a magic trick?” before mooning the tipsy crowd.  This feat prompted cheers, but not as many as Oseland received for his first ever Fringe show.  A babyfaced twenty year old, Oseland may make those of us in our late twenties feel like dinosaurs—a few members of his audience could be heard fondly reminiscing about their own university days after the show.  However, despite his youth he has put together a strong, well-arranged show. 

Oseland never misses a trick.  He has a “free shot Friday” policy, luring audience participants to join him onstage with alcohol—and that’s not the only free drinks on offer, Oseland is generous with his booze.  He is never short of enthusiastic volunteers to help him out.  This easy rapport with the audience is a standout feature of the show.  The one time this drunk young man made a slightly unkind comment to an audience member he immediately self-corrected and apologized profusely.  He even managed to convince a stranger going to the toilet to buy him a pint of Guinness on the way back, and only just missed splitting the G—perhaps the one trick of the evening that didn’t go quite right. 

Wisely, Oseland performs his more dangerous stunt tricks first in the show, when he has not yet been drinking for as long.  A card trick in this section is particularly effective, with an expressive participant offering words of encouragement.  His later alcohol-themed reinterpretations of magic are perhaps the more interesting to see, as he has so perfectly fit the tricks in to his theme.  Many magicians have used a stopwatch to time themselves getting out of a straightjacket, but Oseland’s take is much more fun and challenging.  He is funniest in his off-the-cuff remarks to the audience, and while his more scripted patter has its moments it does occasionally feel like he is still developing his unique voice—the sole tell that this is his first Fringe.  

This publication was advised to see Oseland by the secretary of The Pentacle Club of Cambridge, who said that Oseland would be famous one day.  It’s easy to see why.  Oseland has carved out the perfect niche for his skill set and current drinking capacity, but it’s clear that his magical skill, creativity, and general charisma will give him ample room to pivot to a less drunken performance when he has to, and take him far.  Fringe goers can go to Drunk Magic to catch this star on the rise. 

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: DARK MATTER

☆☆☆☆

Local magic celebrity Kevin Quantum made a splash right before this Sunday afternoon showing of Dark Matter, coming in to the audience to take photos with a few of the families in his front row. Cameras came out up and down the audience as people tried to catch paparazzi shots of Quantum.

It’s unclear just how much of his sold out crowd is there due to his run on Britain’s Got Talent, but he plays a clip of some of his judgement in Dark Matter. The comment made by one judge that Quantum is “like a sexy Doctor Who” is played a few times, and to be fair it is difficult to imagine ever receiving a more flattering compliment. Quantum’s audition took place shortly before lockdown shut everything down, and that theme of returning to new opportunities threads through the show.

Dark Matter is an afternoon show, attracting plenty of families, and Quantum is great with the kids in his audience. One section of the show sees Quantum running up and down the aisle with a pack of cards and other close up props, finding a few lucky children to perform for right in front of their seats. He is followed by a cameraman, projecting the magic to a large screen at the front of the theater, so while the children in question get a special experience no one is left out.

However the indisputable highlight of the reviewed show has to be one of Quantum’s older audience participants, Sandy, who joined him onstage for a series of card tricks. The audience got to watch a lovely bromance blossom between Sandy and Quantum, as they laughed and danced together. Sandy was the kind of visibly delighted, down for anything participant that magicians must dream of. Regardless of how many times members of the audience may have seen this particular card trick performed at other magic shows, Sandy made the experience of it at Quantum’s show memorable.

Quantum’s blend of science and magic is always a cross-generation hit. He discusses at the end of the show that he and his young daughter created a magic education YouTube series over lockdown that is now turning in to a magical education video series for use in schools—a project that sounds like a perfect fit for Quantum’s range of skills. While the specific magic of his relationship with audience participants may change from day to day, Quantum is, as ever, a hit of the family-friendly Fringe program.

More information on Kevin Quantum and his performance dates can be found here.

PETE FIRMAN: BAG OF TRICKS

☆☆☆☆

Pete Firman has been working as a magician for an awfully long time.  His act has the pleasantly retro feel of grandma’s prized pyrex—perhaps at times it’s very obvious that it’s been around a while, but at the same time it’s aged so gracefully it’ll probably outlast us all.  In Bag of Tricks he operates under the fairly simple premise that it’s been a long lockdown and he has plenty of things he’d like to show an audience. 

Bag of Tricks is a bit of a misnomer, one of the first items that Firman brings out on stage is a large packing box, big enough to fit him like makeshift overalls as he stands inside it.  His relatable storytelling brings his tricks to life.  If a few of his jokes don’t quite land with every generation of the audience, he is quick to gloss over the moment and press on.  A highlight is when he leans in to his retro vibe in performing odd pointless parlor games that he perfected during lockdown.  It’s a nice break in the traditional magic while still showing off magic-adjacent skills of quickness and manual dexterity. 

Whether it’s due to his history of televised work or his preference for performing his show as half stand up comedy, half magic, Firman invites relatively few audience members to the stage.  With his larger than life performance, for much of the show he doesn’t really need the audience representative onstage to make the magic feel close to us.  However there does come a time when this is necessary, and he chooses well.  All of his participants at the reviewed show are great sports.  Firman generally treats them well in turn—when he gives one a hard time, immediately after he performs one of his prettier effects dedicated just to her. 

Firman’s act dovetails perfectly into current trends favoring upcycled found object maximalism, with his parlor game interludes and frenetic larger than life style.  It’s not at all surprising that he’s attracted a decent proportion of audience members who don’t understand some of his older references, magic aside the aesthetic alignment is there.  And his old fans certainly won’t be disappointed by Bag of Tricks.  Firman’s here for a good time and for a long time. 

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

TOMAS MCCABE: HOW TO READ MINDS

☆☆☆☆

Whether due to the late timeslot on a Friday evening, the gentle Irish accent, Tomas McCabe’s invitation to learn secret knowledge in How to Read Minds, or the appeal and reputation of the performer himself, McCabe was able to gather a huge crowd on the day that his Fringe show was reviewed.  A popular regular, McCabe’s audiences have evidentially not been diminished by the overall slowdown of this post-pandemic Fringe.  He demonstrated exactly how he earned this renown over the course of his hourlong show. 

The flipside of this success is that McCabe was at times faced with a merry mob of chatty revelers rather than a nicely attentive audience.  He dealt with this as well as could reasonably be expected of him, by ignoring the interruptions other than to drown them out by pushing on with his show.  Luckily thanks to his projection coupled with his tech assistant’s help those who wished to follow along were perfectly able to.  Said tech assistant incidentally also emerged over the course of the hour as the current most eligible bachelor of this year’s Fringe.  Ladies, contact McCabe for his number. 

McCabe demonstrated his mind reading techniques on both the audience as a whole and on a select few individuals who were invited up to the stage.  Each method was equally impressive in its own right.  A highlight involved the use of audience members’ anonymized secret confessions to aid in the demonstration.  McCabe teased his audience, but from a place of nonjudgement.  The purpose of the exercise, aside from learning techniques to help trick people in to thinking you could read their mind, was to create a space for everyone to freely express their errors in judgement without undue negative reaction.  The teasing tone was dependent on the subject matter, when McCabe came across a confession that a member of his audience was planning on coming out to his parents the next day McCabe was quick to wish him luck with the conversation. The only trick that McCabe missed was due to an inebriated would-be participant forgetting her role, which he laughed off without embarrassing her. 

McCabe is one of the more popular Fringe magicians and earns it all the more with every show.  For a fun bit of mentalism, Fringe audiences cannot go wrong with McCabe. 

More information on Tomas McCabe and his performance dates can be found here.

GRIFFIN AND JONES: IDIOT MAGICIANS

☆☆☆☆

The 2021 Fringe didn’t feel like a real Fringe, which at the time was easily attributed to the reduced size, prevalence of masks, and test and trace isolation guidelines.  In hindsight, however, it may have just been the absence of Griffin and Jones.  Whether through their slapdash magic or iconic 1AM cabaret, these two are innate to the spirit of the Fringe, and it is a joy to see them back.  Idiot Magicians is the perfect title for their show, and they do not disappoint, either with the magic or the exemplary displays of lighthearted idiocy. 

Griffin and Jones involve a variety of original props in their show, from a mind reading melon to a jar of jellybeans.  While their tricks often follow classic patterns, the manner in which they are presented are wholly their own.  It can be hard to review a show without spoiling it for readers, but it is difficult to imagine that Griffin and Jones would object to their future audiences hearing about the live dolphins that star in the second half of their show.  While animal use in magic shows has a dubious past, Griffin and Jones assure their audience that the dolphins are well cared for.  Bar staff at their venue have been heard to tell that if the dolphins choose not to perform Griffin and Jones replace their routine with a magical take on a striptease, described as weird but definitely magical and surprisingly sexy. 

Audience participants are similarly well treated.  Members of the audience may briefly feel the mock ire of Griffin and Jones on dropping a treasured prop, but all is rapidly assured to be in good fun.  The pair respond well to unexpected hiccups in their audience members.  At the reviewed show a participant forgot the card that she had chosen—surely a relatable moment for all who have participated in that capacity—and Griffin and Jones help her out without undercutting their reveal. 

In a world that often feels like it’s hurtling toward a smorgasbord of potential future apocalypses while simultaneously feeling stuck in time or even pulled backwards by the machinations of political elites, perhaps a little Idiot Magic is exactly what is needed.  Griffin and Jones teach their audience to find joy in the little idiocies of their magic, and to spread this idiocy and joy in their own lives. 

More information on Griffin and Jones and their performance dates can be found here.

PETE HEAT: BLIMEY

☆☆☆☆

Pete Heat’s name is especially appropriate for the day that his Fringe show Blimey was reviewed.  August has been unusually warm, and another mini heat wave this week saw Gilded Balloon staff warning audience members about the heat in Heat’s room and handing out cups of water along the queue.  It was indeed especially hot, even for a Fringe venue, but with the fans kept running and Heat adjusting his volume to compensate the show was able to go on. 

The majority of the run time of the show was not taken up by magic, Heat mentions toying with the idea of turning to stand up comedy full time and it’s evident that he would have no trouble generating material.  This does not come across as a flaw.  The full effect of his comedy and the sprinkling of magic does not fail to entertain.  While most of the creativity of the show is focused on the trappings around the magic—Heat’s delightful stories and inventive comedy props—the magic that he does, which includes both sleight of hand and mentalism, feels freshened by Heat’s performance. 

In a crowded little room with a nearly sold out show it was difficult for Heat to get too much in to his audience, but he ensures that everyone can get involved from their seats.  Despite the full room, with his height and proximity to the seats Heat is able to ensure that his magic is visible to the entire audience.  A few individuals were invited to join Heat on stage to witness his magic up close, and seemed suitably impressed by the experience. 

One point in Heat’s monologuing that may come across as odd to the Edinburgh magic fan is that it is not possible to use magic as a form of self-expression the way you could with other art forms.  Contrary to this assertion, Heat is currently sharing the metaphoric stage of the Fringe with several masters of such emotive magic. It feels incorrect to point out this shortcoming in magic as a genre without acknowledging that there are a significant number who buck the trend, or joining them as an example of the range of possible magical performance.  With his creativity and skill this absolutely feels like a feasible route for Heat if it’s a direction that he is interested in going in. 

Heat’s blend of stand up and magic makes for an exceptional hour regardless of the weather.  The audience is left wanting more, more stories, more magic, more of Heat’s show, a sure sign that Blimey is worth a visit. 

More information on Pete Heat and his performance dates can be found here.