4 Stars

ROBERT TEMPLE: THE HYPNOTIST

☆☆☆☆

Hypnotists have been noticeable primarily by their absence this Fringe.  As a genre even more dependent on touching strangers than other performers, it is understandable that many may not have felt comfortable doing shows, or confident that they could get willing participants.  Robert Temple is the exception willing to take the gamble.  In the simply titled ‘The Hypnotist’, he talks us through some of the theory behind hypnosis and, of course, gives everyone in the audience the opportunity to try out being hypnotised themselves.

Like many hypnotists, Temple devotes time in the first part of his show to discussing hypnotism in theory before demonstrating it in practice.  He describes himself as a comedy hypnotist, and this is where the majority of the comedy comes in.  Future audiences may be comforted to note that he makes fun of himself far more than any of his participants, and that if he does poke fun at his audience it will be during this first part of the show, when everyone is fully awake.

Perhaps in a bid to flatter the audience on to his stage, Temple describes hypnosis as a function of creativity.  This appears to work well for him.  At the reviewed show he was working with a relatively small audience, as many performers are at this pandemic Fringe.  Given the nature of his act he made sure to warn the audience ahead of time that volunteering to take part would require some physical touch.  Nevertheless he easily filled his ten spots on stage with eager participants looking to be hypnotised.  Once they were hypnotised, the demonstrations he encourages from them tended toward silliness rather than any kind of public embarrassment.

As is always the risk, perhaps especially in a discipline such as hypnosis, something did go wrong.  In this case, one of the participants ‘woke up’ from his hypnotised state unexpectedly early, having a knock-on effect on the others on stage.  Temple dealt with this with the apparent ease of a practiced professional, calmly switching a few things around, and of course looking after his participants to smooth their exit from his show.

For those looking to be hypnotised this Fringe, Temple may be the only option.  Luckily he’s a great option.  His style of hypnosis appears to be reasonably effective on a range of individuals.  All go in with the confidence that they will feel safe on his stage, and by the time they leave they can feel confident that their trust in him was justified.

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

DAVE ALNWICK: EXCEPTIONAL MAGIC & SUPER CHILL MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

At an Edinburgh Fringe where many familiar magicians are absent or performing limited runs, Dave Alnwick is back for full Fringe long of three to five shows a day.  By numbers alone, he accounts for exactly one third of the magic listings on the PBH Free Fringe website this year.  His two daytime shows, Super Chill Magic and Exceptional Magic, are intentionally very similar to accommodate his many fans, which is why they are both best addressed in this one review. 

The household name status that Alnwick has achieved at the Fringe makes the audience experience at his shows extra special.  People who manage to secure spots at the fronts of his queues have the camaraderie of successful pilgrims, holding spots in the queue for strangers who have urgent errands and exchanging phone numbers so those who remain can immediately update the errand-runner if anything changes.  The hype might sound excessive but as soon as the show starts, Alnwick proves that he’s earned it. 

Both Super Chill and Exceptional Magic have a bit of sleight of hand but rely more heavily on mentalism, Alnwick’s specialty.  Everything is performed flawlessly, as his audiences have learned they can expect.  A card trick that he performs with two audience participants in each show is a particular highlight, with Alnwick leaving his deck of cards in the participants’ hands for the majority of the effect.  In the talent-scouting portion of the reviewed Super Chill Magic, Alnwick found an excellent participant who briefly stole the show, and would not be out of place on his own stage, perhaps at next year’s Fringe.  Choosing participants who will best enhance the show is a skill in itself, and one that Alnwick has clearly mastered over his long career. 

Super Chill and Exceptional Magic are well timed to accommodate Alnwick’s variety of fans.  Super Chill Magic is in the early afternoon, earlier than most shows, for the Fringe tourists to kick off a busy day of show-hopping.  Exceptional Magic, on the other hand, is just about late enough for locals to pop in after a day in the office, and to catch those unwilling to get out of bed in time for Super Chill Magic.  Both Alnwick and this reviewer agree that attendance at both is not necessary for any but the most devout of his followers.  Either one is sufficient to re-cement the legend of Alnwick in the Fringe collective consciousness for another year. 

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

TRENT JAMES: PURE LIES

☆☆☆☆

It cannot be underestimated what a boon the Chicago Magic Lounge is to the local magic scene. Within the flawlessly decorated interior, walls dripping with prints from the golden age of magic and hidden doorways at every turn, any performer is perfectly set up to shine. That being said, the brilliantly constructed beauty of the venue still would not be able to carry the show. For that, the magician still needs their own supply of skill and charm. Luckily for Trent James, he is well situated with both.

If you are the type to google your entertainers before you see a show, which increasingly we all are, you would note that James bills himself as a comedy magician. This may skew expectations, as Pure Lies is not what one would predict from such a claim. Comedy magic almost exclusively uses the trick as a tool to deliver the punch line, whereas James’ show is a far closer fit to a traditional magic show. Cheeky, self-depreciating humor sparkles under every line of banter, but is never made the focus of any bit, just a supplement.

More accurately, Pure Lies is well- performed, classic magic. James pulls from the best of old magic, but wisely avoids padding with any trick that is too worn out. Instead, he makes sure the tricks he does perform are given ample attention, molded around the ideal avenues for audience interaction, and refreshed to provide a modern take.

The unpretentious air that James affects may be the most clever part of Pure Lies, shrugging into the silliness of the show while perfectly disguising the hard work that magicians have to put in to seem effortless. The technical talent displayed by James is remarkable if you know to squint for it, and the fact that you have to squint a triumph on its’ own.

Chicago Magic Lounge seldom lacks for a good show, but Trent James’ Pure Lies stands out within their program as an unmissable event.

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

THE SECRET CONNECTION

☆☆☆☆

The magic of The Secret Connection starts before the zoom show, when each audience member receives a mysterious parcel in the post to be opened on Dr Will Houstoun’s instruction.  This is not arranged via a mentalist trick, the organizers request an address when each ticket is purchased, but if key components of a magic trick are creating a sense of anticipation and wonder the parcel definitely qualifies.  It is an early demonstration of Dr Houstoun’s wholehearted embracement of a new generation of magic that permeates every element of his show. 

Dr Houstoun earned his title with a PhD in Victorian conjuring literature.  He opens his show by asking if the audience would prefer an exhaustive history of notable magic events from the 16th century to date or his collection of zoom-era magic tricks.  While this audience voted decisively for the tricks, Dr Houstoun uses a brief historical introduction to contextualize modern magic as it is known pre-pandemic and how the new era of zoom magic fits into that lineage. 

In a section devoted to sleight of hand tricks, Dr Houstoun takes full advantage of his medium to have maximum impact.  Coin tricks are usually only performed to small audiences so everyone gets a good view, but in a zoom show the whole audience gets a front row seat, so Dr Houstoun can execute this trick regardless of his audience size.  When he moves on to card tricks he goes a step further, with an effect that not only works on zoom but performing it in a way that would not be nearly as impressive in an in-person show. 

The smooth use of the platform deserves its own mention.  The audience are muted by default, and when the chosen participants are pulled in to the show they appear on the same screen as Dr Houstoun, mimicking the way participants were brought on to the stage in pre-pandemic shows.  The audience is also divided out into timed breakout sessions at one point in the show, allowing for a randomized chat with a stranger that would be difficult to work out logistically in an in-person audience, where even if conversation with strangers were encouraged it would be limited to those within speaking distance. 

Dr Houstoun ends on an entirely classic note, with a final reveal that all magic fans will have seen coming from the first few seconds of the show, that he nevertheless effectively ties in to his overarching theme of connections formed.  While the sort of reveal that he utilizes is generally underwhelming to anyone who has seen more than one magic show, it works in context here as a final nod to the history of magic.  The Secret Connection as a whole looks forward, demonstrating how magic has always adapted to its era to create connections and providing compelling proof that it will always continue to do so. 

More information on The Secret Connection can be found here.

DAVE ALNWICK: ETHEREAL

☆☆☆☆

The typical modern magic show often requires two elements that are pandemic-taboo: a large crowd and real-life interpersonal contact, a bedrock that could previously be taken for granted in building the structure of the performance.  Dave Alnwick gets creative in Ethereal to devise a magic show that is free from these foundations.  

There are benefits and drawbacks to live virtual technology in magic, and Alnwick has clearly taken the time to adapt and find a balance that suits his style.  While the particular capability of forcibly muting all but the chosen participant sadly eliminates the sound of applause, it also essentially eradicates any unwanted, distracting commotion, creating a tidier performance atmosphere.  Alnwick’s dynamic stage presence feels especially unfettered to project through the screen.  

Perhaps most obvious to feel but difficult to define is the lack of egregore in a virtual performance, where energy is less easily shared amongst the performer and members of the audience.   Alnwick addresses this head on, structuring Ethereal around various categories of communication.  This reflective use of his presentation scaffolding acknowledges the limits of his current means of performance without detracting from the display of his considerable skill.  

Magically, Ethereal is particularly interactive, as Alnwick has evidently chosen to get around the limits of virtual magic by primarily choosing effects that he can instruct his audience to create at home.  Alnwick helpfully sends out a list of the items required prior to the show, and it is well worth the price of a deck of cards to be able to participate.  Ethereal at times feels less like a “magic show” and more like a “professionally guided magical experience”.  Alnwick explains how to create the effect without explaining the “trick” that makes the magic, exporting the physical work of the effect to his audience’s homes but keeping their sense of wonder for himself.  

Alnwick also takes the time to exhibit a couple card tricks more traditionally, in that he holds and manipulates the cards himself.  His mastery of sleight of hand is indisputable.  These are a fun diversion in a performance that relies more on mind reading and puppeteering the audience’s hands.   

The pandemic is especially tough on the performing arts, and stage magicians in particular have had to redefine their genre during this universally stressful time in order to continue to work.  Holding Alnwick and his colleagues to any formal standard of review at the moment feels entirely inadequate.  That being said, a job well done deserves recognition, and Alnwick creates an entertainingly interactive magical experience in Ethereal that is worthwhile fun for all ages.  

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: ANTI-GRAVITY

☆☆

Kevin Quantum’s final performance of Anti-Gravity at this year’s Magicfest was to a sold out audience, an impressive feat for the Monday evening before Hogmanay.   This year’s winter Magicfest has apparently found its time to shine in Edinburgh’s busy festival calendar, and Quantum, one of just two solo magical acts this year, has clearly found his following.  Quantum’s particular science fiction blend of physics and magic appeals to all ages, and he cultivates a tone of ingenuous whimsicality that perfectly suits the levitation-themed event.

Quantum devises a plot line in Anti-Gravity with his homemade anti-gravity machine, which slowly gains power over the course of the evening, allowing him narrative justification to gradually increase the stakes of his tricks.  He cleverly uses the same props for a series of effects, as when he switches, levitates, and multiplies a five dollar note.  By using the same object to both follow his theme and deviate from it, he gives himself room to perform a wider variety of tricks while maintaining the cohesion of the show.

A penultimate effect involving two audience participants behaving erratically shifts the tone of the evening.  It is a fascinating glimpse at what Quantum is capable of, taking advantage of the playful magician-scientist character that he embodies so well to create unexpected feelings of unease in the audience.  While it is unfortunately a touch too surrealist to feel fully at home in Anti-Gravity specifically, it piques interest in Quantum’s future projects.

Easily the cutest moment in Anti-Gravity was Quantum’s interactions with one of his early audience participants, a young aspiring magician—who Quantum immediately identified as such by her top hat.  She certainly appeared to take to it very well.  She enthusiastically learned how to manipulate the audience from Quantum and visibly enjoyed her newfound power.  It was lovely to see Quantum taking the time out of his own act to encourage a potential future magician, easily juggling entertaining his audience as a whole with spontaneously inspiring this one audience member in particular.

Anti-Gravity is overall a fun, solidly entertaining show, and Quantum’s personal enthusiasm for both magic and science radiates throughout.  Its simple narrative and overall tone surely satisfy the numerous children in the audience, and Quantum’s performance is surely varied enough to keep their guardians entertained.

 

More information on Kevin Quantum can be found here.

EDINBURGH MAGIC SOCIETY END OF SEMESTER CABARET

☆☆

Edinburgh University Magic Society’s End of Semester Cabaret was a showcase of the talented magicians that dwell among Edinburgh’s student body. With no overarching theme, the night was characterised by a diverse set of acts with close-up magic juxtaposed against larger stage shows. Regrettably, the evening was heavily delayed due to technical difficulties which unfortunately persisted throughout the show. Nonetheless, a close-up magician (who grew in confidence with each successful trick performed) entertained the audience and ensured the time passed quickly.

Comedic compare Alex De Koning entertained throughout the evening. His risqué jokes were well received by the student audience and De Koning’s charismatic personality ensured he dealt well with an array of magical mishaps, including a particularly difficult participant for one of his first tricks. De Koning’s persistence in the face of adversity paid off when his latter tricks were pulled off almost flawlessly. De Koning used his role well to highlight his large and diverse repertoire and ensured the audience looked forward to his inputs.

Matt Yocum had the tricky task of opening the show. Like De Koning, Yocum faced a difficult participant who he was unable to put at ease, which undoubtedly left the finale of his first trick falling a bit flat. Conversely, Yocum’s cups and balls trick was executed perfectly – no mean feat when the balls kept rolling off the make-shift table.

Chris Morningstar was the most bizarre and therefore the most memorable act of the evening. His act creatively pulled three seemingly unrelated aspects – maths, musicals and magic – into a comical and unexpected performance. Although also facing repeated technical difficulties, Morningstar breezed through his impressive stage magic tricks. Morningstar’s performance became repetitive towards the end, but in true rockstar fashion, Morningstar got the audience singing along with him, leaving the audience wanting more.

Most hindered by the technological difficulties was Leo Hotham whose act centred upon traditional close-up card tricks. With the input for the large projected back screen being a grainy webcam, unable to pick out the suits of the cards, the magic was slightly lost for those who were not in the front row. Although smooth-talking Hotham’s tried and tested lines will be well known to anyone who has seen a magic show before, his slick tricks were nonetheless impressive and well-executed.

Sean Harrington clearly had a large following in the audience, and given his remarkable performance, it is not difficult to see why. The only act to fully engage with the difficult double-tiered venue, Harrington’s showmanship was second to none. Although dangerous at times (perhaps throw coins away from rather than towards the audience in future!), Harrington performed arguably the most technically difficult magic of the evening effortlessly showing he is an incredibly skilled, traditional magician.

For a seemingly unrehearsed event, the Edinburgh Magic Society End of Semester Cabaret was an enjoyable showcase of diverse magic styles – it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for similar events by them in the future.

 

More information on the Edinburgh Magic Society can be found here.

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.