4 Stars

GRIFFIN AND JONES: IDIOT MAGICIANS

☆☆☆☆

The 2021 Fringe didn’t feel like a real Fringe, which at the time was easily attributed to the reduced size, prevalence of masks, and test and trace isolation guidelines.  In hindsight, however, it may have just been the absence of Griffin and Jones.  Whether through their slapdash magic or iconic 1AM cabaret, these two are innate to the spirit of the Fringe, and it is a joy to see them back.  Idiot Magicians is the perfect title for their show, and they do not disappoint, either with the magic or the exemplary displays of lighthearted idiocy. 

Griffin and Jones involve a variety of original props in their show, from a mind reading melon to a jar of jellybeans.  While their tricks often follow classic patterns, the manner in which they are presented are wholly their own.  It can be hard to review a show without spoiling it for readers, but it is difficult to imagine that Griffin and Jones would object to their future audiences hearing about the live dolphins that star in the second half of their show.  While animal use in magic shows has a dubious past, Griffin and Jones assure their audience that the dolphins are well cared for.  Bar staff at their venue have been heard to tell that if the dolphins choose not to perform Griffin and Jones replace their routine with a magical take on a striptease, described as weird but definitely magical and surprisingly sexy. 

Audience participants are similarly well treated.  Members of the audience may briefly feel the mock ire of Griffin and Jones on dropping a treasured prop, but all is rapidly assured to be in good fun.  The pair respond well to unexpected hiccups in their audience members.  At the reviewed show a participant forgot the card that she had chosen—surely a relatable moment for all who have participated in that capacity—and Griffin and Jones help her out without undercutting their reveal. 

In a world that often feels like it’s hurtling toward a smorgasbord of potential future apocalypses while simultaneously feeling stuck in time or even pulled backwards by the machinations of political elites, perhaps a little Idiot Magic is exactly what is needed.  Griffin and Jones teach their audience to find joy in the little idiocies of their magic, and to spread this idiocy and joy in their own lives. 

More information on Griffin and Jones and their performance dates can be found here.

PETE HEAT: BLIMEY

☆☆☆☆

Pete Heat’s name is especially appropriate for the day that his Fringe show Blimey was reviewed.  August has been unusually warm, and another mini heat wave this week saw Gilded Balloon staff warning audience members about the heat in Heat’s room and handing out cups of water along the queue.  It was indeed especially hot, even for a Fringe venue, but with the fans kept running and Heat adjusting his volume to compensate the show was able to go on. 

The majority of the run time of the show was not taken up by magic, Heat mentions toying with the idea of turning to stand up comedy full time and it’s evident that he would have no trouble generating material.  This does not come across as a flaw.  The full effect of his comedy and the sprinkling of magic does not fail to entertain.  While most of the creativity of the show is focused on the trappings around the magic—Heat’s delightful stories and inventive comedy props—the magic that he does, which includes both sleight of hand and mentalism, feels freshened by Heat’s performance. 

In a crowded little room with a nearly sold out show it was difficult for Heat to get too much in to his audience, but he ensures that everyone can get involved from their seats.  Despite the full room, with his height and proximity to the seats Heat is able to ensure that his magic is visible to the entire audience.  A few individuals were invited to join Heat on stage to witness his magic up close, and seemed suitably impressed by the experience. 

One point in Heat’s monologuing that may come across as odd to the Edinburgh magic fan is that it is not possible to use magic as a form of self-expression the way you could with other art forms.  Contrary to this assertion, Heat is currently sharing the metaphoric stage of the Fringe with several masters of such emotive magic. It feels incorrect to point out this shortcoming in magic as a genre without acknowledging that there are a significant number who buck the trend, or joining them as an example of the range of possible magical performance.  With his creativity and skill this absolutely feels like a feasible route for Heat if it’s a direction that he is interested in going in. 

Heat’s blend of stand up and magic makes for an exceptional hour regardless of the weather.  The audience is left wanting more, more stories, more magic, more of Heat’s show, a sure sign that Blimey is worth a visit. 

More information on Pete Heat and his performance dates can be found here.

RENZ NOVANI: ORACLE: DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE FUTURE?

☆☆☆☆

The Fringe is a very loud place, from flyerers clamoring to grab attention to performers using their best projection to ensure that their audience can hear them in distracting venues.  It’s part of the appeal, but can get tiring.  Stepping up the stairs to Renz’s calming, lilting voice and softer charisma is a welcome reprieve.  The audience of his show Oracle: Do You Want to See the Future gets to listen to him as he leads them through a series of mentalist effects in a bid to show that he, too, joins the oracles of mythology in ability to see the future. 

Renz dips in to a range of methods to display his mentalist and predictive powers.  Perhaps most fun and impressive is when he requests that audience members generate creative responses to his prompts for him to read from their minds, giving the rest of the audience insight both in to their fellow audience members and Renz himself via the range of prompts available.  You’ll find no ESP cards here, Renz’s methods create a unique experience of his skills at each show. 

The audience members who join Renz’s show as magical participants can expect an especially uplifting experience in an already uplifting show, being rewarded for leaving their seats with compliments and kindness.  Renz is a supportive presence, an audience member who initially has some trouble with Renz’s instructions becomes a temporary co-star in his own right.  Joining Renz on stage is not the only way that the audience participates in the show, which ends up feeling like a culmination of the audience’s collective participation.  

If Renz cheats the question in his ultimate conclusions regarding precognition it is no more than is reasonably expected of magicians, and the result is more inspirational than prospective audiences might anticipate.  While we at World Magic Review don’t claim to possess Renz’s precognitive abilities, we do foresee that Renz’s future audiences will very much enjoy his show. 

More information on Renz Novani and his performance dates can be found here.

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.