4 Stars

THE SECRET ROOM AT LAURISTON CASTLE

☆☆☆

MagicFest’s Secret Room events are fantastic, as the chosen venues lend a theme to the performances, and the addition of the historical lessons of the buildings ensure that the evening is about more than magic.  This second point is especially true for the Secret Room at Lauriston Castle.  The event features three magicians, but the castle itself is the fourth star of the show.

The audience is first led into the study, where Billy Reid begins the evening’s magic.  Reid is perhaps the most true to theme.  Inspired by a historical cabinet maker who lived at Lauriston Castle, he incorporates a wooden puzzle into his act, and he concludes with a coin trick inspired by the lost coin collection of one of the castle’s former residents.  Reid’s gorgeous illustrated card trick sequence set to “Caledonia” is a highlight, working particularly well in this smaller venue.

The drawing room of the castle barely contains the boisterous character of Ian Kendall.  His tricks are classic, featuring cups and balls or ropes and rings, but his jokes keep the audience laughing, and his rapport with the group draws everyone into the performance.  Kendall does integrate a bit of a history lesson in to his act, and expresses suitable admiration for the room that he is performing in, but only very tenuously links his tricks to the history of the venue.  He makes this work as his larger-than-life personality easily distracts the audience from any thematic absence.

Chris Cook concludes the performances of the evening in the castle’s library.  The tidy precision of Cook’s magic style is exceptionally effective with this smaller audience.  In keeping with the theme, Cook uses an audience participant’s phone for his final trick, because, as he explains, these days the internet serves a similar purpose that a library would have back when Lauriston Castle was built.   While this does run in to technical difficulties, Cook maintains the momentum of his performance to deliver his reveal.  It is perhaps all the more impressive for the unplanned extra suspense.

Cook’s performance brings the magic of the evening to a close, but the audience is lucky enough to have the opportunity to stick around for a quick tour of the remaining rooms of the castle.  This includes two real secret rooms hidden in the performance venues.  As the event begins with a brief re-telling of the story of the castle and ends on this tour, the actual magic shows feel surrounded by history.

Lauriston Castle is an incredible venue for this Secret Room event, and the magic matches the excellence of the architecture.  The assortment of magicians is well chosen, as their contrasting styles ensure that each of their performances feels distinct, and the contrast makes the event feel balanced.  The castle and illusions combined ensure a wonderful evening steeped in all the best history and magic Scotland has to offer.

VINCENT GAMBINI – THE CHORE OF ENCHANTMENT

☆☆☆☆☆

Vincent Gambini’s meta-show about magic, The Chore of Enchantment, encapsulates the pessimism of 2016.  It is especially fantastic for those who still haven’t quite gotten over the ridiculous politics of that year.  Most of The Chore of Enchantment is less magic and more Gambini’s stand-up comedy style routine about his disillusionment with both magic and the real world, with bits and pieces of tricks used to enhance his monologue and illustrate his descent into melancholy.

Gambini creates a sense of unease from the start as he steps on to the stage in a sleep mask, and describes the room, the audience, and himself as figments of his dream.  While the big illusions that he describes do not manifest—no floating yoda or hole in the fabric of reality appear on the stage—the card tricks that do are still enjoyable, and create a bridge between Gambini’s mind and reality.

Equally atmospheric are the smaller bits of magic that Gambini performs as he gets into the politics of his show.  Gambini makes coins and balls disappear and reappear as he talks about the repetitiveness of performing magic, and brings magic back to the forefront of the narrative when he makes a staff appear with a loud snap.  He does occasionally run the gag for a little bit too long, but this feels like part of the show, as it periodically transitions the audience from awe to near-apathy with each new effect.

Gambini’s interactions with his audience are charming.  He does not use a lot of participants, due to the relative scarcity of magic in his show, but he reacts remarkably well to their mistakes and interruptions, seamlessly working them in to his performance.

By its nature, The Chore of Enchantment does occasionally feel a little bit pretentious in its exaggerated self-consciousness.  Gambini pokes fun at his past career in conventional magic as inadequate given the current state of the world, while performing what is, at its heart, a magic show in his own attempt to come to terms with those real issues.  In spite of its stated conclusions that magic is simply another distraction, the effectiveness of The Chore of Enchantment is evidence in support of magic’s usefulness as a tool for performers to address real world issues.

In The Chore of Enchantment, Gambini balances entertaining his audience with inspiring them to think, both about the real world and the nature of entertainment.  His comedy still feels timely two years after the events that he discusses, and his minimalist magic augments his words and astonishes his audience.

RENZ NOVANI: POET OF THE IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

For a magic show, Poet of the Impossible is curiously light on magic, at least in the illusions sense.  Renz Novani’s poetry and storytelling share the spotlight with his magic tricks.  It is clear from the beginning that this is because Renz is a compelling performer, both with and without his magic. It does mean that his show might feel exceptionally niche—his best audience will be those who enjoy both magic and poetry—but those boundary-defying qualities also lend him a wider appeal, as a performer first and foremost over his role as a poet or magician.

In a fun twist on classic playing card trickery, Renz frames an opening trick by talking about his early days of learning magic out of books, and then having an audience participant read instructions from a magic book to guide him through a trick.  The audience feels as if we are taking part in this childhood anecdote.  But of course the instructions that are read out are incomplete, and the audience is still amazed to see the trick succeed.

Renz ventures into less conventional magical props with his use of tarot cards for a mind reading trick.  He does briefly use them for their intended purpose, while acknowledging that he himself is not a believer in such fortune telling.  When he finishes by using the tarot cards to reveal his mentalist trickery he dazzles the audience on his own terms rather than those set by the cards that he is using.

Poet of the Impossible winds down show by Renz telling stories about magic while performing the magic that he describes.  In one he describes a childhood dream about fairies fixing his broken toy while fixing it on stage in front of the audience.  He uses this to then draw a parallel between dreaming and watching magic, with both allowing for temporary escape from reality.

Renz’s graceful magic combined with his spoken word performance gently reshape his audience’s perception of reality while keeping us grounded in the real world.  While fans of both magic and poetry might get the most out of Poet of the Impossible, the elegance of his performance is enchanting to all.

LEWIS BARLOW – CARDS, COINS & MINDS

☆☆☆☆

Lewis Barlow chose a very straightforward name for his show—Cards, Coins, and Minds—and he does exactly what it says on the tin, performing a series of coin and card tricks and reading a few audience members’ minds.  The premise is simple, but the magic is enthralling.  Barlow performs to an audience comprised largely of adults accompanied by young children, and he easily holds the attention of all ages.

Barlow begins with a quick few coin tricks.  While these are entertaining enough, a few of the younger children were still a bit fidgety until he brought out the cards.  Using a younger audience member as one of his first participants was both a nice way to include that segment of the audience and perhaps helpful in getting them on board with sitting still for the rest of the show.

Following this is his mind reading, where Barlow continues to excel.  He has mastered the art of timing his preparatory work just long enough to build anticipation while not continuing so long that he loses the attention of the children.  He uses both cards and less traditional magic props to maximize effect, and finishes up with a wonderfully performed déjà vu themed card trick that leaves the audience amazed as we exit the theatre.

If there is one critique to be raised of Barlow’s performance, it is in his poor handling of young child shouting out that she wanted to have a go at volunteering in his show.  Considering his experience (Barlow has been a magician for twenty years, he tells the audience in this show) one might have expected him to have contingency plans prepared for audience interference.  Seeing this instance apparently catch him unawares was especially surprising considering how well he otherwise dealt with his younger audience members.

In Cards, Coins, and Minds, Barlow’s performance is both pleasantly straightforward and captivatingly complex.  Barlow’s gentle stage presence inspires audience trust, and his evident magical skill enchants the audience.  Cards, Coins, and Minds is an excellent piece of family magic to entertain guardian and child alike.

THE SECRET GIFT

☆☆☆☆

The stage at the Traverse Theatre sets the tone for the Magicfest Christmas Special “The Secret Gift” with a lovely silhouette of the Edinburgh skyline, featuring hanging lights appropriately reminiscent of the enchanted candles of Hogwarts.

The show is hosted by Kevin Quantum, who weaves Christmas cheer through the evening with his between-act entertainment.  His commitment to the Christmas theme in each of his appearances is admirable.  Quantum is at his charming best when interacting with his audience participants, and holds the attention of parent and child alike with his engaging misdirections.

The first act to take the stage is Chris de Rosa and his glamorous assistant in The Art of Illusion.  This act features many classic magical effects, with the two surviving a variety of seemingly fatal situations. This pair excels at coordinating their turns in the spotlight to support each other’s performances.  De Rosa and his partner return to the stage as the final act of the evening, with a more festively themed take on their signature style.  Their closing trick is a suitably playful end to the program.

Professor Kelso follows with a decidedly more comedic form of magic.  While his sleight of hand and mind reading clearly delight the audience, it is his fantastic character that keeps the audience laughing during his time on stage.  Kelso is the other performer who appears twice in the show.  His second performance is a break from the usual course of the show, featuring Kelso leading the audience in a sing-along of a Christmas carol that he has re-written to a magic theme.  This level of audience participation lends a pantomime atmosphere to this portion of the evening.

Another break in the usual course of magic comes from Señor Pérez, who is not a magician, but a bubble artist.  Neither properly magical nor especially Christmassy, Pérez’s bubble choreography is nevertheless enchanting.  His ephemeral creations prove truly captivating to watch.

The final magician, David Blanco, performs a series of card and coin tricks.  His decision to perform these tricks in a relatively large theatre may initially seem questionable, as both are more commonly performed for smaller audiences, but the dimensions of the theatre, and Blanco’s clever use of the largest coins available, means that his tricks are still relatively visible from the farther side of the audience.  The commendable scaling of close up magic for a larger audience in this act allows this show to demonstrate a wide range of magic styles.

The variety of acts in “The Secret Gift” makes for an exciting evening. The show seems especially popular with families with young children, and the performers successfully cater to the range of age groups in the audience.  The overarching festive cheer of this show successfully extends the magic of Christmas well beyond its usual temporal limits.

PBH BEST OF MAGIC SHOW

☆☆☆☆

The PBH’s Best of Magic show, hosted by Chris Cook, featured a different lineup of magicians at each of its three performances.  This review is of the third and final performance, and it was a fitting finale to a Fringe full of incredible magic.

Cook was the perfect choice to host this show.  His love for magic shone through each and every one of the glowing introductions that he gave his fellow magicians.  After watching him juggle getting the crowd excited for each act, helping out in various ways throughout the performances, and performing his own magic tricks when the occasion called for it, it is easy to see why Cook has found success in the hectic realm of performing at private parties.  His unflappable cheeriness at every juncture held the show together.

The show kicked off with Aaron Calvert, a mind reading magician whose main show culminates in hypnosis.  Here, with less time, he focuses on the mind reading, using an audience member to choose numbers on a die for him to figure out.  Calvert’s commanding presence kept the audience mesmerized by his feats.

Next up was the delightfully creepy Ava Beaux.  Her Edgar Allan Poe themed show was reviewed here on one of her first performances, and she has only improved over the course of her time at the Fringe—she certainly had plenty of performances in which to do so, as she proved to be so popular that she had to run her show twice a day to satisfy her fans.  Beaux’s performance persona had consistently been one of her strong points, and even that had developed further; she was fully committed to her darkly comic character.  Beaux is reminiscent (if she would permit a more modern comparison than Poe) of Lemony Snicket, of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” fame.  Her magic tricks were appreciably neat and polished, and she kept up the flow of her act to seamlessly incorporate her illusions.

Following Beaux came a properly comic interval, featuring Tom Crosbie.  Crosbie’s main show included a variety of mathematical and Rubik’s cube based comedy.  Here he focused on the Rubik’s cubes, showing off his quick solves, and tricks like solving the Rubik’s cube while it was in midair.  While Crosbie does not do what one would consider a quintessentially magic centered act, his set was entertaining and provided an interesting change of pace.

David Narayan came next, with his own take on mentalism. He also brought along a taste of the magical history lesson that featured so prominently in his main show, The Psychic Project.  Also similarly to his main show, he kept a twist for the end—which, in this case, featured an unusually exciting wardrobe change.  Narayan’s performances at this Fringe have been heavily informed by history, but it is such characteristic personal flourishes that truly set him apart.

The show wrapped up with a final set by Dave Alnwick, another magician who has proved incredibly popular this year.  His wallet-based trick, featuring multiplying yellow fluffy balls, was a fun and playful way to end the show.  Like in all of Alnwick’s performances, his charismatic personality kept the audience engaged regardless of what he was doing on stage.  As Alnwick is also an amazingly skilled magician, the audience was captivated.

This performance of the Best of Magic show featured a wonderfully skilled lineup and stellar performances from every entertainer.  Each one of these performers are exceptional in their own right, and watching them perform on the same stage was a delight.

#DAVE: LITERALLY THE BEST MAGICIAN

☆☆☆☆

Some magicians favour subtlety. Dave Alnwick is, unapologetically, not one of them. In one of his shows, he asks his audience to worship him, and in this, his “Literally the Best Magician” show, he seeks to prove that he has earned that title. “Literally the Best Magician” has had an incredible run so far at the Fringe, with daily queues down the street—the Voodoo Rooms even had to set a start time for the queuing, as people were turning up to see Dave well over an hour before the show’s start time.

Alnwick performs a huge variety of tricks to prove his magical superiority, from sleight of hand tricks to mental magic. A mentalist highlight from “Literally the Best Magician” is when he has volunteers draw on white boards and then matches up the drawing to the person who drew it. One of the constants across Alnwick’s performances is his incredible charisma. While many of his tricks are uncommon and intrinsically impressive, he does include a few of the more traditional ones in his bid for ultimate superiority. In his capable hands, these basics are just as engaging. Alnwick also consistently teaches his audience a few of the magical fundamentals, which is an enjoyable way for the audience to feel involved. In this case, he instructs us in some basic sleight of hand. Learning the principles involved only gives the audience a greater appreciation of Alnwick’s skills.

It is worth mentioning that the multi-talented Alnwick has written a choose-your-own adventure book, that also includes instructions to learn magic tricks, which he sells at the end of each of his shows. For Alnwick’s fans, his magic does not have to end when his show does.

Is Alnwick really “Literally the Best Magician”? Spectator chatter certainly swung in his favour by the end of the show. Members of his audience could be overheard comparing him favourably to Derren Brown. Ultimately the question is best answered by every individual for themselves, but it is definitely very enjoyable to watch Alnwick state his case. “Literally the Best Magician” does not try to tell a story, or inspire anything in its audience except for a love of Alnwick. But it is ridiculously fun to watch, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want.