4 Stars

NEIL KELSO: SOUNDS IMPOSSIBLE – A MUSICAL MAGIC SHOW

☆☆☆☆

Magicians are inherently nerds, regardless of whether or not they lean in to it in their shows. In the more interesting shows they might reveal their nerdiness about something other than magic, and Neil Kelso does in Sounds Impossible: A Musical Magic Show. His discussion of musical theory will probably be new to just about everyone in the audience, even those of us who learned piano casually as children. While the magic is itself impressive, it is a secondary aspect of the performance, enhancing the discussion and performance of music. This is to Kelso’s benefit, setting him apart and making for an especially interesting show.

The magic starts classically and visibly, with a trick that happens both in Kelso’s hands and in the hands of his audience members. However, a highlight of the show is the perfect combination of the musical and magical aspects in a card finding effect that uses the piano to find the cards. An audience member in the front row of the reviewed show had a satisfying reaction as the magic revealed itself, gasping loudly and clutching her partner’s arm. Seeing that Kelso can provoke this reaction in his audience is a reminder to frequent magic show attendees of how it feels to see these incredible feats for the first time.

Kelso evidentially knows at least as much about the history of pianos and music as he does about magic, and it’s great to get to hear some of this knowledge from him. He covers everything from historical differences in tuning standards—listing a few famous composers and describing how the instruments of their day would be tuned higher or lower than the one he plays on—to the effects of air pollution and recent research in to how to potentially counteract it, for example how living under a flight path might affect people. The magic draws people in, but once they are there they may wish that more of the performance were dedicated to this musical education.

Sounds Impossible: A Musical Magic Show does indeed sound impossible at first, but Kelso pulls off the premise and more. With a broad appeal, he gets people from both sides—impressing the magic fans with his breadth of music knowledge and the music fans with the magic tricks. He has a pretty universal appeal. Fans of either aspect of his performance will be sure to see something new.

ARRON JONES: ONE HOUR STRAIGHTJACKET ESCAPE MAGIC SHOW

☆☆☆☆

Arron Jones performs a few pieces of scary magic in his One Hour Straightjacket Escape Magic Show, but perhaps the scariest feature is how much of the show is left in the hands of his audience participants. This presents an interesting unstated theme. Like all magicians Jones presumably put a lot of effort in to creating this show, and from the start he places his trust in these strangers—albeit strangers who wandered in to the back of a pub just to see him—to carry out the bulk of the fulfillment of his creation. It’s a kind of wholesome, calculated laziness.

The only people who will be disappointed with this show will be those who genuinely wanted to watch a man struggle to escape a straightjacket for a full hour—while Jones does eventually make his way out, the majority of the hour is spent with him apparently content to be tied up. Those of us hoping for creatively themed magic under this unusual self-imposed restriction will have no complaints.

By and large Jones’s trust in his audience is justified. Anyone who has tried to talk someone else through a new task will know the sheer variety of unpredictable ways that people mess up at unfamiliar instructions, and Jones does indeed come up against this—early on in the reviewed show. He deals with this well enough, not breaking character, and the participant in question both has a good time and eventually figured out how to do the task requested of him.

A highlight is a card trick that culminates in an assisted striptease for an exciting reveal. The participant chosen for this looked thrilled to be helping him. Like most of us, she had been enjoying Jones’s custom music that accompanied a lot of his set up and transition times, and her visible enthusiasm made her a fantastic choice to share the stage with him.

The risk of going to a show titled as One Hour Straightjacket Escape Magic Show is that it turns in to a repetitive rehashing of the magician escaping from various binds. Jones does not fall in to this category, instead having put together one of the most creative of the magazine-style magic shows at this fringe. The straightjacket restricts his movements but he more than rises to the challenge. This is the magic show to see if you think you’ve seen it all.

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.