4 Stars

AVA BEAUX: THE MYSTERIOUS TALES OF POE

☆☆☆☆

As the audience enters her venue, Ava Beaux appears to be incredibly sweet and welcoming, pulling over extra chairs to ensure that the sizable crowd who wish to see her show all manage to fit in the room. This is a comforting memory to cling to as The Mysterious Tales of Poe begins and Beaux’s eerie performance persona becomes increasingly unsettling.  Beaux holds the audience’s attention from the moment she silently starts cutting up a balloon string.  Her mesmerizing performance ensures that no one looks away even as the tricks get more macabre.
 

Nevertheless the audience feels a degree of safety, as all of Beaux’s creepiest effects and destructive impulses are focused on herself.  She is kinder to the participants who she calls upon to help throughout the show.  The magic itself is largely well performed.  If the odd prop is visible before it is meant to be the audience hardly notice or care as they are caught up in the flow of Beaux’s interpretations of Poe’s stories.
 

This is where Beaux truly excels, in the interweaving her storytelling with her magic.  Every trick supports the Poe stories that she narrates.  Likewise, each story is perfectly chosen as being suitable to be told through magic and further her theme, so the magic never feels forced.  The finale of her show is, however, entirely storytelling, and Beaux invites her audience to close their eyes to better appreciate Poe’s words, even at the expense of making her final reveal slightly anticlimactic.  Seeing the majority of the audience follow this advice is a testament to the degree of trust that Beaux manages to build in spite of the frightening nature of her performance.
 

The theatricality of The Mysterious Tales of Poe broadens its appeal; audience members certainly don’t have to be fans of magic to enjoy it.  On the other hand, those who are used to seeing magic performed as trick after trick with no unifying theme might gain a greater appreciation for the potential of magic when performed with Beaux’s creativity.
 

More information on Ava Beaux and her performance dates can be found here.

EDWARD HILSUM: SILVER

☆☆☆☆

Many magicians start their shows by discussing their discovery of magic as a child, to prime their audience to experience a similar childlike sense of wonder. Perhaps it is Edward Hilsum’s youthful face that allows him to use this tactic so compellingly in Silver, or maybe he really is just something special.

Similarly, audience members at magic shows expect that they might be called upon to take part, but few are asked to do as much as Hilsum’s first participant. Rather than simply using this participant in her usual role as the “eyes of the audience”, Hilsum asks her to take a more active role in apparently performing the magic alongside him, making coins and eggs appear in her own hands. As it is of course really Hilsum doing all of the work, the experience is just as magical for his participant as it is for the rest of the audience.

The performance stumbles momentarily with an effect using an audience participant’s jacket that was perhaps poorly chosen. Hilsum seems to acknowledge this, explaining it away as a section that he came up with at the last minute to fill time. However, this is forgotten almost immediately as Hilsum performs a trick so seemingly impossible and unique that it has the audience members still debating it hours after the end of the show.

A recurring motif of the show is coins. Hilsum’s tale of childhood magic centers on a coin given to him by a magician, and he ends the show with a coin trick of his own—the titular “Silver”. The magic is great on it’s own, but Hilsum’s coin choreography in between making them disappear and reappear is equally impressive, as he is incredibly adept at flipping and manipulating his coins with just one hand.

It is at this point that the audience might realize one of the most unusual aspects of Hilsum’s performance. He managed to put together an entire magic show without any card tricks and without any integration of mentalism, and did not even make a fuss over this break with convention. Hilsum’s creativity serves to make his show even more impressive in hindsight, and Silver is a well worth watching magical experience.

 

More information on Edward Hilsum and his performance dates can be found here.

 

COLIN CLOUD: SINFUL

☆☆☆☆

The undeniable truth of the Edinburgh Fringe is that if you want to be guaranteed to see some of the most entertaining magic around, you should probably be going to Colin Cloud’s show of the year. Cloud has been performing at the Fringe for several years, and always manages to outshine himself by bringing new and exciting ideas to his work.

In this year’s creation, Sinful, Cloud plays with the idea that even if we’d like to think we’re saints, we all have a little sinner in us. And he and fellow magician Chloe Crawford use their almost intimidating skill to read what you’ve shoved deep into the back of your mind, the truth of your mischief.

Cloud knows what he does well, and knows not to get rid of a good thing. The first portion of his show is classic Cloud, spot on mind reading that leaves his audience gasping in wonder at how it could possibly have been done, how even the “modern day Sherlock Holmes” could have been quite so astute. But Cloud is not out of surprises yet. He’s got a new twist- from reading your mind to leading your mind. Not to spoil the twist, but if you go to Sinful thinking you’re the height of innocence- it won’t last.

Also relatively new to him is working in partnership. Crawford and Cloud are not just peers but fiances, getting a head start on being one of the great married magician teams. Crawford seems a little rushed and nervous, but she needn’t be, her parts of the show are impeccably performed and her showmanship utterly compelling. It’s easy to see how these two magicians found themselves to be a match. Their styles are very similar in their wholehearted commitment to an aesthetic. They match their demeanors perfectly to the narrative at hand, without losing their well crafted personas. It is very interesting to see the way that Crawford and Cloud work as a team, and it would be great to see more of their onstage chemistry.

Sinful is an enticingly good show, full of everything the Fringe crowds have already decided they love about Colin Cloud, with a few new twists. And just when you think you’ve got Sinful figured out, Cloud and Crawford prove that the trick has been on you all along.

 

More information on Colin Cloud and his performance dates can be found here. 

 

JOHN ACCARDO: METHOD TO THE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Magic can be many things, based on everything from the taste of the performer to the perception of the spectator. Magic can be challenging, exciting, classic, smug, one or any or none of the above but something else. But in John Accardo’s Method to the Magic, above all else, magic is joy.

Accardo is a wellspring of effusive, infectious enthusiasm. It is abundantly apparent just how much passion he has for magic, and how much delight he takes in sharing it. This devotion transfers more and more strongly to his audience the longer he spends with them.

Method the the Magic is a very casual show. Accardo chats with his crowd as they come in, banters easily, and makes no attempt to restore order when certain moments of audience participation dissolve into farcical levels of confusion and self consciousness. Rather, he leans into it, letting every moment develop naturally. This cannot and should not be mistaken for lack of control. Accardo is a sharper and more skilful magician than he’s willing to let his audience think he is. The silliness inspires goodwill for him in his spectators, and thus Accardo has won the crowd.

Accardo uses classic magic effects very well integrated into his narrative for the show- explaining what it’s like to be a magician and (almost, sort of) what it’s like to do the tricks. He jumps from mind reading to card tricks and beyond with equal and impressive mastery, and every part is- there’s this word again- a joy – to watch.

This is John Accardo’s first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, but hopefully the first of many. Because it won’t be long before the crowds of Fringe goers discover that in a bunker plopped down in George Square is a hidden gem of the Fringe magic world.

More information on John Accardo can be found here.

LUKE JERMAY: STRANGE POWER

☆☆☆☆

Predicting the future is indeed a strange power. Who even, really, wants to know what comes next? Wouldn’t that take the fun out of it? But for those who have gotten to experience Luke Jermay, the fun of it is undeniable.

Strange Power is not a pretentious show, despite the teeming grandiose of Jermay. It is a thing exactly of itself- a man will come onstage, answer the deepest questions his audience members have of their futures and, sixty minutes later, leave. It is one single act done identically, but it is one single act done incredibly well.

Jermay is an exceptionally powerful performer. From the moment he steps onstage he radiates such a strong sense of presence- despite not saying a word for the first several minutes- that the audience is held in his thrall and wait in their own silent, excited anticipation, so as not to risk missing a word. When he does speak, Jermay is commanding and sharp, but not without genuine warmth. He is the portrait of a man who Knows What He Is Doing, and his onlookers cannot help but be desperate to know too.

Most importantly, Jermay is right, and not just right but exhaustively so. Jermay does not just get a read on each of his chosen audience members, but does so with compelling, intimate depth. Unlike some of his profession, he does not shy away from giving actual advice on the paths that can be taken. He does not fear overstepping- after all, we did ask. His decision to engage so thoroughly allows him to be invested into the futures he predicts, and allows the rest of the audience to be as well. Jermay makes the lives of random strangers who happened to go to the same Fringe show as you as interesting as your own.

Luke Jermay does have a strange power, and few could predict the future as well as he. But one prediction can be made with total confidence by anyone who sees his show: Luke Jermay is only going to build on his already prodigious strengths, and be a household name before long.

More information on Luke Jermay and his performance dates can be found here.

THE OPTICAL DELUSIONS

Performing in the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee was a homecoming show for magician Ben Seidman and juggler Marcus Monroe, who both come from and began their best friendship in the area. And truly they received a fitting welcome home from the crowd, who filled up the entire hall and seemed to feature a lot of family and friends of the two performers. But although they had the overwhelming support of their community, they far from need it to make The Optical Delusions a success. This show positively vibrates with infectious enthusiasm- for the skillful juggling and tricky magic demonstrated, and for the best friendship of Seidman and Monroe.

The Optical Delusions experienced by the crowd in Milwaukee must have been a unique experience from the rest of the tour, because it was absolutely teeming with Milwaukee and general Midwestern humor. Seidman and Monroe were overtly delighted to be among the only people who could appreciate this content, and so even seen through the eyes of a transplant to the area, every joke hit purely on the strength of their energy.

It’s impressive that two men the same age from the same area have both done so well in the variety performance world, although in different subsets of it. Magic and juggling make sense together if you squint and don’t think too hard about it, and it helps that so many performers who do one have also tried their hand at the other. But they really do require different talents even beyond just doing them – how to present the skills, how to interact with the audience while they do, and so on. And what is startling is how very, and equally, good Seidman and Monroe are in their respective arts.

Monroe is demonstrably aware that if you can juggle you can’t just juggle, that would get boring after a while. But juggling with a few smart jokes, a lot of endearingly dumb jokes, and a solid assist of audience involvement, turns his admirable skill into a show well worth watching. Seidman is a magician who should be paid a lot more attention to on a national or even international level. His attitude and showmanship are impeccably crafted, and he has found a way to make nearly every trick in his repertoire seem brand new and completely fresh- an almost impossible feat in such an old art.

Seidman and Monroe are at their best when they’re working together, a beautiful thing to be able to say about two ‘best friends’. It’s absolutely obvious that their partnership in this show isn’t just a gimmick; they have amazing chemistry that could only come from knowing, supporting, and building each other’s acts up for years. For the beginning, end, and flashes in between throughout The Optical Delusions, the two trade banter crackling with energy and experience, and play ‘straight man’, or the other way around, to the one who’s turn it is to do his bit. The construction of the show genuinely only falters when one is left alone on the stage. This is not to say either performer could not carry a one man show- they both could, and do outside The Optical Delusions. But the energy of this particular show changes too drastically when they aren’t both contributing, and it makes for a somewhat fractured experience. Fortunately, they’re back together in peak form by the finale, and blow any memories of lagging out of the audience’s minds. 

The Optical Delusions is a delightful show where the hilarious comedy almost distracts you from how good the magic and juggling actually are (but not quite).  And as an added bonus, it’ll make you really appreciate your best friend.

 

 

More information on Ben Seidman and Marcus Monroe and their future performance dates can be found here and here.

 

HOME

Geoff Sobelle’s Home defies categorization—it makes such excellent use of a variety of performance art genres and influences to make its point. Most interesting, and perhaps most relevant to this review site, is the evident magical influences. Many of the most obviously magical effects are used to add charming moments of humor, and even beyond these it makes original use of magic tropes. Any plot to Home is more of a suggestion or theme than a storyline, as its purpose does not seem to be to tell a traditional story, but to convey a feeling of Home-ness to the audience.

The motif of disappearing and reappearing dominates the first section of Home. This appears as a sort of larger scale of a magician’s sleight of hand. Instead of playing cards disappearing, reappearing, or suddenly changing identity, it is the human actors doing those things. This illustrates a central message of Home, that while a house might stand for generations, the people who would call it a home are in comparison constantly changing.

A second main segment of Home is instead monopolized by that classic component of magic shows, random audience member participation. The audience members who are brought up on stage are well taken care of. The nature of the performance allows the actors to give the participants instructions without distracting the rest of the audience from the show. By the end of this scene there are so many members of the audience up on stage, and the participation has extended so far into the seated masses, that it is as if Sobelle has welcomed the entire audience into his house party.

It is worth mentioning the primary set piece used in the production. Home is a multifaceted piece of performance art, and a key aspect of that is the house that the majority of the action is set within. It is an incredibly elegant and precise construction. The house set is so perfectly suited for the choreography of the performance, it is clearly a very well thought through design.

If the goal of Home is to convey a sense of Home-ness to the audience, it has succeeded in this impeccably. Its whimsical reflections on the nature of what makes a house a home are always captivating and, by the end, ultimately heartwarming.

 

Home can be found at King’s Theatre during the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival from August 25-26