4 Stars

CHARLIE CAPER: SLEIGHT OF HAND

☆☆

Charlie Caper is perhaps best known for his delightful robots.  While these do make a cameo appearance in Sleight of Hand, Caper has reduced their role to focus on his sleight of hand magic skills.  He has a charming bumbling style that he can only pull off because his skill is so well honed.  Nevertheless, the robots that do feature still manage to steal the show.

The more involved robot sequence that Caper has included features his miniature robot self sharing a newspaper with his real self.  The magic is there as Caper destroys and restores the paper, but the real magic is in Caper’s chemistry with his robot self.  Watching them move in choreographed unison is such a fun moment, and even sweeter is seeing Caper gently hand props to his robot, so they can collaborate in amazing the audience.

The magic that Caper performs is a combination of more common tricks with some that are more specific to him.  Even the magic that the audience may have seen before is done so well that they cannot help feeling astonished.  His note changing is a perfect example of this—a trick done so commonly, by so many magicians of varying skill levels, that even casual magic fans may suspect how it is done.  However, even those who think they know the secret behind this trick will question that knowledge when they see Caper perform it.

Caper excels at magic, but it is often the non-magical sections of his show that truly set him apart.  He ends Sleight of Hand with what is less of a magic trick and more of a light show, while sharing a lovely life philosophy that brings meaning to the pretty flickering lights.  Caper is capable of creating magical moments far and beyond the anticipated trickery.

 

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

GRIFFIN AND JONES: SURPRISINGLY GOOD MAGICIANS

Everything that Griffin and Jones do in Surprisingly Good Magicians is done in their distinctively silly style.  They wouldn’t just read an audience member’s mind, they must use their “mind reading goo”, a sticky fluorescent substance that is stored in a children’s lunchbox.  And they have a long section in which they use their mentalist powers to deduce which celebrity a volunteer has picked from the hat, in a style reminiscent of childhood boardgames.  The set up for that particular reveal might feel too long in the hands of less experienced performers, but it flies by in Griffin and Jones’s hilarious company. Magic fans might recognize some of the structures underlying their tricks, but Griffin and Jones always find ways to make their magic new and exciting.

Their final reveal of the evening, that you should not believe everything that you are told as all of the mechanisms that they use to produce “magic” are really tricks, initially sounds like the most obvious revelation ever.  However, their explanation is genuinely fascinating, as they go through how they buried the lead in each of the tricks that they performed in their show.

The slapstick magic style that Griffin and Jones have perfected does result in them often coming across as surprisingly good on the first watch, as they control the chaos that rapidly engulfs whatever stage they find themselves on.  This particular show is especially surprising, as these wacky performers discuss a topic as weighty as the proliferation of unreliable news stories, and even make it fit so perfectly into the silliness of their show.

 

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

PIFF THE MAGIC DRAGON: LUCKY DRAGON TOUR

Anyone who might have seen images of a man in a dragon onesie with a dog strapped to his chest and expected Piff the Magic Dragon’s Lucky Dragon Tour to be a classic family friendly magic show would be disappointed.  The Lucky Dragon Tour is more of a parody of classic magic.  There are relatively few actual magic tricks by comedy magic standards, as Piff’s comedy shares the spotlight with his magic, but the tricks that are there are made to count.

The Lucky Dragon Tour has elements of a stereotype of a magic show—a glamorous assistant and a performing animal—but their roles in the show satirize those outdated conventions.  The glamorous assistant does wear a showgirl outfit, dance between tricks, and help Piff set tricks up.  However, the blatant dissonance of her act with the overall sensibility of the show mocks the sincerity of historical use of magicians’ assistants.

The animal performer at the Edinburgh Fringe this year is one of the original Mr Piffles’ many understudies, an employee of Edinburgh’s chihuahua café named Cleo, so that Mr Piffles would not have to undertake the traumatic transatlantic flight from Las Vegas.  This alone underscores a key difference between the Mr Piffles’ role and that of a more traditional trained magical animal.  Mr Piffles is treated very much as a treasured pet.  He shows no signs of having been trained to perform, beyond a tendency to tranquility despite the energy of the show, and is cradled in loving arms for the majority of his time on stage.  He is nevertheless not just a prop but very much the star of the show.

If Piff’s interactions with the audience come across as unkind, it is in such an over the top way that it seems to make fun of stereotypes of magicians or comedians whose attempts at interactive humor stray a little too frequently into insults.  He is watchful of his audience and chooses individuals who respond well to his teasing humor.  His magic is well performed and adapted to fit the show, making good use of a camera to magnify the smaller elements of the tricks for the large venue.

The Lucky Dragon Tour’s satirical take on magic is well worth the hour.  While, to be fair, the vast majority of modern magicians do not embody the stereotypes that Piff mocks, this old school is still a recent memory, and the last vestiges of that old fashioned style do still pop up from time to time.  Even for those unfamiliar with the type, Piff’s skill and humor stand alone as strong entertainment.  Arrive early for a chance at coming across Cleo hanging out in the audience!

 

More information on Piff the Magic Dragon and his performance dates can be found here.

RENZ NOVANI: ORACLE

The title “Oracle” and its poster featuring Renz Novani with a crystal ball initially appear to be very old fashioned.  However, Novani has brought the oracle theme into the modern day.  He even begins his show by reading audience members’ minds using Cards Against Humanity cards, which both brings more of the audience’s personality into play, and helps the participants as they have something more relevant to remember than a playing card.  Opening the show with a party game creates a sense of community amongst the audience.  Novani acts more as the host of a premonition party than a mysterious oracle for much of his performance.

As the host, Novani gets the entire audience involved in making predictions.  His use of many audience members in a variation of the Cards Against Humanity section seems to be at least as much for his own (and the audience’s) amusement as it is to directly contribute to his mentalist feats—a respectable motivation.  If Novani took his attempts at making predictions too earnestly he might leave himself open to ridicule, so this mood lightener is clever.

A central element in Oracle calls for everyone in the audience to attempt to act as a successful oracle themselves.  While Novani does not provide anyone with the traditional hallucinogenic drugs to aid attempts at clairvoyance, the trance-inducing music that he plays is relaxing in its own right.

A final part of his show does involve Novani taking on a more classically Oracle role, but even here he is open about using his skills at reading people rather than pretending to have genuine psychic powers.  Despite his joking earlier in the show, Novani never fully shook the ethereal quality of his performance persona, and here it is at its full strength.  Perhaps wisely, Novani keeps his readings encouraging and supportive without presuming to offer specific advice.

Novani’s conclusion to Oracle is ultimately encouraging.  He believes that the future is ruled by choice rather than fate, and has chosen to use his stage to inspire others to take an active role in deciding their own futures.

 

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

PAUL NATHAN: MAGIC HOUR

A charming San Franciscan, Paul Nathan makes clear to his audience from the beginning that his Magic Hour isn’t really a magic show, it’s just us hanging out with him and watching him perform some magic tricks.  It is not even really an hour, as the scheduled run time is forty minutes!  However, Nathan invariably gets caught up in performing and runs late.  Nathan switches up his show depending on the audience, and is even open to requests, inviting everyone present to suggest a trick that they might have seen him perform on TV or on Youtube.

When it started to rain, as is so common at this year’s Fringe, Nathan kindly allowed the audience to enter the tent that he is to perform in a few minutes earlier than planned.  The last few bits of set up become an appropriately casual introduction to the “not really a show”.  Nathan gradually starts introducing himself to his intimate audience during this time.  By the time the magic starts properly, being invited up to participate in the tricks feels less like joining a performance and more like helping Nathan show everyone the cool skills that he has mastered.

The magic itself is exceptional.  The Magic Hour is a close up magic show, and Nathan seems to favor his cards, but the one effect that he performs with several large coins is done to perfection as well.  Nathan encourages the audience to lean in for a closer look, and even move their chairs behind him to try to catch him out.  By the end of the hour, the majority of the audience has abandoned their chairs entirely to lean in as closely as possible to Nathan’s card table.

The time flies past in Nathan’s fascinating company.  He seems to take genuine delight in his performance.  Those looking for an hour of fun magic tricks can hardly do better than Nathan’s Magic Hour.

 

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: NEON FUTURE

☆☆☆☆

It is rare that a show literally starts with a bang.  It is unclear whether Kevin Quantum decided to use explosives in Neon Future specifically for this purpose or whether the bombs came to mind first, but he took full advantage of the opportunity that their involvement afforded him for an exceptionally exciting introduction.

The explosives set the tone for the show.  Quantum’s theme matches his title—the future—and from there his show explodes in all directions, encompassing everything from personal musings into the possibilities of a robotically enhanced humanity, the dialectic debate of destiny versus free will, The Matrix… and more typically magical pretensions to genuine clairvoyance.

Quantum is fantastically committed to this theme, altering every trick he performs to fit it.  A highlight in this respect is his version of the oldest trick in the world, which in Quantum’s world becomes a miniature futuristic teleportation device.  Quantum’s explanation of the history of the trick detracts from the moment ever so slightly, taking the audience out of the moment, but in fairness this is in keeping with the capricious nature of the flow that Quantum cultivates.

The audience has a high proportion of children, and Quantum is excellent in working with them.  He makes a point to involve them in the show, often selecting his participants entirely from the children of the audience, and tries to involve as many of the enthusiastic volunteers as is feasible.  On the other hand, there are points in the show where it is best to minimize child involvement, especially the sections involving the explosives, and Quantum makes the responsible decision to choose adult participants at these times.

Neon Future often feels like it is going in every direction, all at once, so it is impressive that Quantum makes it feel like a cohesive show.  This is perhaps in part him embracing that his early evening time slot and nominally semi-educational theme means that he might regularly attract a younger audience, and tailoring his act to suit those tastes.  And even adults can appreciate the childlike joy of watching things go boom.

 

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

TOMAS MCCABE: THE MIND READING EXPERIMENTS

☆☆

You wouldn’t expect it from someone with a face so young, but the moment Tomas McCabe steps on stage, he radiates a sense of authority. Maybe it’s just the lab coat, but McCabe’s energy and articulation immediately set the expectation that The Mind Reading Experiments is going to be a captivating show – and it does not disappoint.

The Mind Reading Experiments is both a historical exploration and a magic show, cloaked in the wonder of “obviously he can’t actually read our minds…but what if he can?” McCabe brings his audience into the 19th century spiritualism craze, where psychical abilities were tested and debated both in private, spiritual spheres and in scientific and intellectual ones. Key to his show are the Creery sisters, a group of five girls who claimed to have psychic powers, and the experiments that were done on them by scientists of the time to determine just how true that might be. But this show is not just about the past, it’s about today’s spectators too. McCabe claims that he’s going to teach us all how lies are discovered, minds are read, and much more. He bounces between different ways our minds work, from how we present body language that gives our true intentions away when trying to lie, to how propaganda and technology work on us. A glimpse inside the magic of the mentalists, we think, but McCabes’s skills prove far beyond any audience member’s powers of comprehension, and even when doing their best to catch him out, McCabe proves that he’s the smartest one in the room – or at least the most extrasensory.

McCabe mentions dropping out of school to follow the subjects that truly interested him, but it is clear that despite that, he certainly knows how to study. The Mind Reading Experiments is put together with by-the-book magic show perfection, from the overarching theme to the quick and neat cycling through audience participants. It is, if anything, a little too perfect, a little too perfunctory. At times audience members are brought onstage to do a quick task, be set dressing for a moment while McCabe provides framework for the next bit, and dismissed. This seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, because McCabe truly shines when he banters freely with his audience members, or is faced with a participant so excited to engage that they carve a bit of the show for themselves. McCabe is better at improvising than he thinks he is. Similarly, one simple but striking moment is his method of collecting slips of paper from the crowd – it’s unexpected, funny, and lightens the mood. McCabe is already head of the class when it comes to a well-constructed magic show, but once he feels the comfort to be more creative, he will be unstoppable.

The Mind Reading Experiments is a cleverly wrought and enjoyable magic experience. You may not come out of it with a lot more information about psychical abilities than you may have already known, as your teacher has no intention in letting his students outsmart him, but really you wouldn’t want to. Tomas McCabe makes it more fun to be baffled than you could ever have imagined.

 

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