4 Stars

BEN HART: THE NUTSHELL

☆☆

The room already radiates an air of enigma as you walk in, and this is just your basic Fringe venue. What is it about Ben Hart that infuses mysteriousness into any room in which he walks?  That question may never be answered, and maybe that’s for the best. What can be known, however, is that Ben Hart’s The Nutshell is an elegant, stylistic experience in truly beautiful magic.

The Nutshell feels, in a nutshell (sorry), like a desperate and intense attempt of a magician at piercing the true nature of his art and its’ limits. A journey in magical madness, even, but one so artfully explored that it pulls every onlooker in, captivated from start to finish. From changing the course of fate to nature to murder, Hart somehow connects an array of topics into a enthralling rhythm.

Hart is an understated performer, gentle in word and movement, which makes his magic feel all the more astonishing when it happens- you’ve been lulled into a pleasant reverie by his stories when you’re caught off guard by the reveal of the illusion he’s slipped past you. Hart is masterful at maintaining a sense of delicious tension, never letting the mood break even when he has to instruct audience volunteers. He weaves his way through the slipperiest of sleight of hand, and appears as watchful of his audience as we are of him, a small smirk as if wondering how far he can trick us into suspending our disbelief.

Ben Hart is an exceptionally skillful magician and a bewitching performer. You won’t leave The Nutshell completely understanding what you just saw- or even what you were meant to see- but you won’t be able to stop wondering about it.

 

Ben Hart can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:15 from August 18-27

#DAVE: LUXURY MAGIC SHOW

The premise of Dave Alnwick’s Luxury is that he usually performs up on a stage, far from the audience, so here he wants to create a close-up, more luxurious magic show. His interpretation of this theme is characteristic of his especially mischievous magical style, and is used as an effective motif throughout the course of the show.

Aside from this motif, Alnwick has free range to perform a wide range of magic tricks, and he takes full advantage of this. Some of the best moments of the show are when the magical aspects of the performance take the audience by surprise, as much as they can do at a magic show. Alnwick pauses in the middle of setting up a mind reading trick to show off his sleight of hand skills with a pen, and frames another trick as a clever bit of origami that soon turns into proper magic.

Alnwick’s magic tricks are incredible, but even so it is his humor and larger-than-life personality that set him apart as a performer. A true comedy magician, Alnwick’s frequent jokes and quick wit keep his audience in near constant laughter. He takes the time for an extended verbal set-up for a magic trick without losing any attention from the audience.

This combination of excellence in magic and comedy has made Alnwick one of the more popular Fringe magicians, and he deals well with packing out his venue. Alnwick takes the time to do a few of his physically smaller effects twice, both at the front of the room and halfway to the back, to ensure that everyone gets a good view. He also makes sure to include the entire audience when picking participants for his tricks rather than just focusing on those in the front half of the seats. In spite of the playful interpretation of his Luxury motif, it is clear that Alnwick cares about his entire audience, and he makes the effort to ensure that everyone who has come out for his show has a magical experience.

Typically of Alnwick’s shows, Luxury is well worth the time for those who enjoy both comedy and magic. It may be necessary to arrive early to get a seat, but after watching the show the audience will understand why Alnwick is so popular.

 

Dave Alnwick can be found at Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 13:40 from August 15-26

CHRIS COOK: CONCEALED

Chris Cook is quite probably the hardest working magician at the Edinburgh Fringe. A consummate professional who holds his audience in his thrall during his stage show, in Concealed, Cook also proves that he has the personability necessary for a fantastic close-up performance.

Concealed’s venue is a tiny room in the basement of the Street bar. The scent of weed wafts gently down from above, and the decor includes disco balls, a cherub, ducks, and twee wallpaper. And in the middle of all this, Cook practically vibrates as he bounces endearingly from taking music requests, gulping down an espresso martini, and bantering with his audience with charming earnestness as he tries to fit everyone into the room.  The place is tiny but the show well attended- knowledge of Cook’s skill has spread by word of mouth and everyone is eager to see for themselves.

Cook performs the traditional, but he performs the traditional well. Even if you’re familiar with magic and you’ve seen the tricks he does before- and surely you have, as he does a rendition of the oldest trick in the world- nothing ever feels even remotely stale. He breathes exuberant almost to the point of manic energy into this intimate performance. Close up magic is a really fast way to separate the truly talented magicians from the deceptively clever showmen and Cook is, actually, both. Every trick is precise, and if it weren’t, we would never have been given the opportunity to realize. Every joke hits, and if it hadn’t, it would have been transformed into one that did. Cook is as quick on his feet as he is with his hands, and even though watching him work makes one exhausted for him, it’s also oddly exhilarating.

Concealed is a performance intentionally under-advertised, because at heart it’s just a guy, keen about magic, sharing it with a small and cheerful crowd. There’s no overarching theme, there’s no moral to no story, it’s a sparse show content in in its own purity, and a purely good show.

 

Chris Cook can be found at The Street (Venue 239) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:45 from August 15-25. 

KEVIN QUANTUM: VANISHING POINT

Kevin Quantum studied physics before he became a magician, and in Vanishing Point he explores the magical niche that he has created by combining his passion for both subjects. The stage is physically dominated by an enormous harmonic pendulum of his own creation that both starts and ends the show. Watching this pendulum in motion at the start of the show is a lovely meditative highlight. In between showing off his pendulum, Quantum performs his array of magic tricks with the theme of making things vanish.

One of Quantum’s primary sub-themes is the Bermuda triangle, famous for making ships, planes, and people mysteriously disappear. Quantum spends a fair amount of time setting up this theme, telling the audience about some of the better known anecdotes and even playing an audio clip from a plane right before it went missing in the triangle. His method of incorporating the theme into his magic tricks is appropriately cheeky for a magic show.

Loss of privacy and the increasing power of technology over humanity, another one of Quantum’s sub-themes, is much more timely, and potentially much more interesting. This time his cheeky nod to theme in the subsequent magic tricks is more of a build up to the big finish—it may feel underwhelming at first, but by the end of the show it proves fittingly impactful. Quantum circles back to his gigantic gadget, using the meditative qualities of his harmonic pendulum to make his point about the importance of living in the moment.

The foundation of Vanishing Point is in hybrids, as Quantum describes himself as a hybrid scientist-magician, and incorporates both magic tricks and scientific demonstrations into this show. Quantum takes this a step further in blending the tone of the show. It is both fun and lighthearted in turns and a bit more serious in others, but does not fully commit to either approach. The lighthearted bits at the beginning still have the dark undertones of death from the Bermuda triangle theme, and the delivery of the sincere message at the end still feels more like a stunt than a moral. This is not detrimental to the overall effect of the show, and feels on brand for Quantum, who has built his magical persona on hybridization.

Vanishing Point is creatively themed and well put together, and well performed in Quantum’s distinctive style. The creative emphasis is decidedly on the theme and non-magical props rather than the tricks themselves, but given the multi-faceted nature of the show this is not too noticeable. Vanishing Point is well worth a visit for those looking for see magic tricks presented in an inventively scientific format.

 

Kevin Quantum can be found at Underbelly Bristo Square during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 18:45 from August 12-20, 22-26

COLIN CLOUD: PSYCHO(LOGICAL)

Colin Cloud begins Psycho(logical) by saying that as, in this show, he will be discussing us, the audience, it is really our own fault if we do not like it.  This sets the tone perfectly—Cloud maintains that ominous and facetious balance steadily for the duration of the show.  Cloud consistently astounds his audience with his mind reading tricks, and uses both classical and unusual techniques for scary magic to great effect.

The first half of Psycho(logical) is more expected magical fare.  The audience files in to find Cloud already on stage, taking notes, but his condition quickly evolves into an escape artist themed situation.  Cloud’s calm demeanor throughout his change in situation could be interpreted two ways, either that he is confident in his control over his show, or that his tranquility when facing apparent death does indicate that he is, as the title of is show suggests, a psychopath.

Midway through the show Cloud switches gears, framing the majority of his second half as a séance-style attempt to communicate with the dead.  This is, he explains, a bit of a tribute to the creator of his beloved Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a prominent spiritualist.   This spiritualist theme allows Cloud to incorporate mind reading, hypnotist, and even meditative techniques to create his effects.  The emphasis is always on the mind reading, Cloud’s specialty, but the addition of the more varied techniques accentuates the story line of that segment, to Cloud’s benefit.

Notably, given the nature of Cloud’s show, he is nevertheless kind to his audience participants.  Cloud reserves the majority of his sinister affectations for the audience as a group, and is much more considerate when interacting with the individuals who put themselves before their peers to help him perform his tricks.

The split format of Psycho(logical) works well for Cloud.  While his séance themed section is certainly engaging, the premise may have felt a bit thinly stretched if he had attempted to hold it for the entire hour.  The only issue is that he did spend such a significant portion of his show on a segment that seemed to have little to no relation to his Psycho(logical) theme.  Cloud did end with a throwback to the start of the show that successfully tied the evening together, but these were external to the séance section.

Psycho(logical) is dependably impressive and reliably entertaining throughout.  Cloud’s séance section was a delightfully creative framework both to showcase his mind reading tricks and allow him to explore related techniques, but did feel like its own self-contained mini-show dropped randomly into the otherwise Psycho(logical) themed main event.

At the start of the show, Cloud claims that any member of the audience may be unknowingly sitting beside a psychopath.  By the end, the one thing that is clear is that, regardless of Cloud’s true mental state as a man, as a magician he certainly plays an entertaining psychopath.

 

Colin Cloud can be found at Pleasance Courtyard during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:00 from August 9-13, 15-27 

PETE FIRMAN: MARVELS

Pete Firman describes himself as a “comedy magician”, and it is his balance of comedy and magic that set Marvels apart.  Firman’s comedy does not feel like filler in between magic tricks, but like an equally valuable and sizable component of his show.

One highlight epitomizes this balance.  Firman uses a gigantic deck of cards for this section of the show, which he shuffles and then has an audience volunteer cut at random.  However, rather than then proceeding with a magic trick as the audience might reasonably expect, Firman tells a fantastically pun filled story based on the order of the cards in the deck.  This balance proves to be characteristic of Firman’s performance.

In a more magical sequence, Firman gets a couple of audience participants to join him on stage while he borrows a ring from one of them to use in his tricks.  While he could be a bit kinder to his audience participants, luckily the individuals who he had onstage seemed unfazed.  Firman performs his ring tricks with skillful precision, and an impressive degree of personal flair.

Firman unapologetically takes another break from magic when he uses a physics demonstration to mix drinks.  The principle is simple enough, and Firman’s attempts to build tension may seem especially overly dramatic to audience members who had enthusiastic physics teachers.   It is all the more impressive that Firman is able to seamlessly integrate such an experiment into his show, in a manner that does not feel out of place or any less entertaining to the audience.

Firman delves into classic magic as well, in particular in his utilization of two nesting tubes.  Callbacks to classic magic tricks continue with the materialization of a multitude of scarves.  Firman puts his own twist on the old tropes, and his distinctively idiosyncratic personality ensures that the tricks do not feel too old fashioned.

Marvels could be billed equally accurately as a magic show with bits of comedy, or a comedy show with bits of magic.  Firman is an exceptional performer in either genre, and watching him blend the two is a delight.

 

Pete Firman can be found at Pleasance Courtyard during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:00 from August 6-26

AARON CALVERT: DECLASSIFIED

Aaron Calvert has chosen a timely theme for his new Fringe show, Declassified. As Calvert explains in his opening remarks, on his inauguration, Trump declassified vast archives of information about some of the United States’s quirkier Cold War era research projects. Calvert’s jokes at Trump’s expense ensure that his audience knows that he is on the right side of history. The rest of the show is framed as an exploration into these declassified archives.

An early segment of Declassified features a classic mind reading trick using several cards with a range of simple shapes. This fits neatly into the Cold War theme. The story often told alongside these props is that they were used by the CIA to study subjects’ mind reading capabilities during the Cold War, and that when the Cold War ended and these research projects were disbanded several subjects used the same cards to demonstrate their skills in magic shows. Calvert puts his own stamp on this classic by adding a hypnotist twist.

Calvert soon shifts into the more hypnotism-centric part of the show, attempting to put the entire audience into a hypnotic state in order to find the best participants for the evening. The process is pleasantly relaxing, even for those who do not reach a full hypnotic trance. A selected few of those who do make it to that state are brought onstage to demonstrate the depth of their hypnosis. Unlike the seedy hypnotist stereotype, Calvert is respectful and empathetic toward those who he has successfully hypnotized.

Here Calvert shifts from his stated theme of the recently declassified files that he discusses at the start of his show, and spends more time relating his demonstrations to modern urban legends. Cold War enthusiasts may be disappointed. However, Calvert’s interpretation of this theme is ultimately uplifting. Rather than re-create the experiments of the Cold War era, Declassified is a new experiment designed to demonstrate the same theory, that individuals are capable of extraordinary feats.

If there is a criticism to be leveled at Declassified it is precisely that, its title. The titular declassified documents feel underused, as they are hardly mentioned beyond the opening political quips. The link between the Cold War theme and the later segments of the show is muddled with Calvert’s increasing reliance on modern urban legends to bring thematic structure to his demonstrations. Declassified would perhaps be better described by a title that evokes urban legends in general rather than one evocative of such a specific aspect of history.

Declassified succeeds as an impressive display of hypnosis, and is enhanced by Calvert’s optimistic attitude toward his audience. Calvert’s style of hypnotism comes across as benevolent rather than manipulative, as he proves his power over his hypnotized participants by compelling them to perform exceptional stunts rather than pointlessly embarrassing actions, while still putting on an entertaining show for his audience. Calvert’s refreshing take on hypnosis makes Declassified well worth the visit.

 

Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26