5 Stars

CHRIS COOK: ENTROPY

☆☆

Chris Cook performs Entropy differently every evening, varying the show apparently largely based on whim.  This, he explains, is one of the reasons why he has chosen to call it Entropy—the universe’s tendency toward chaos, a fittingly playful anti-theme for this show.

Many of the tricks performed on the occasion of this review showcase Cook’s creative approach of magic.  He might start a routine card trick, but he doesn’t stop after finding his participant’s card, instead building a new trick from the remnants that would more commonly be discarded.  Magic fans will almost certainly see something new and different the first time that they watch Cook perform.  In Entropy, there is a decent chance that even those who have seen him frequently will get to do so as well.

Cook was unlucky in having an especially disruptive audience member, but he did not let her derail his show, instead allowing her to join him onstage and become a part of it.  When she takes up more of his time than planned, Cook ramps up his energy levels to deliver a speedily satisfying conclusion to the show at the last minute.  Cook sets a casual tone for this performance and looks like he is enjoying his time on stage, but when circumstances are less than perfect the audience gains a better appreciation for how hard he is working to curate this experience for them.

The degree of spontaneity in Cook’s performance of Entropy is evidence of his incredible skill as both a magician and a performer.  Cook has earned the calculated laziness of not carefully planning the flow of his show. He has perfected his individual routines and transition patter to the point that he can confidently use them to build the show that he wants to perform on the day.  Watching a performer with that much trust in his own abilities, clearly justified by his performance, is always going to be a pleasure.

Cook is unflappably charming and his magic technique is flawless.  The specifics of Entropy might change from one day to the next, and this is a point in its favor.  After seeing it once, the audience will want to return as soon as they can to find out what else Cook is capable of.

 

More information on Chris Cook and his performance dates can be found here.

 

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

Good art thrives when it is communicating, is connecting. Good art thrives when it surpasses the individual and is made accessible to the collective. Although it may take some convincing to even get everyone to agree that magic is art, and can be good art, it cannot be debatable that Billy Reid’s show Watch Closely most certainly is. But what’s more, Watch Closely exceeds good art to become great, and exceeds thriving to absolutely bring magic to life in the eyes and, in some cases, hands, of those that get to witness it.

The title Watch Closely sounds at first like the issuing of a challenge. Watch closely, because the magician is here to trick you- will you be able to catch him? But that is not actually anything close to the sentiment of Reid’s show.  Reid does not present magic as a challenge to be beat. His performance is uncommonly personal, with almost all effects tying into the narrative Reid weaves about his family, his childhood, memories about both his upbringing and more recent experiences that stayed close to his heart.

Although the story that ties Reid’s magic together is so personal to him, that does not make it inaccessible to others. In fact, quite the opposite. Reid is able to cast a spell over his audience that brings them with him on every trick, every tale, every tone shift. At the performance reviewed, the room was full and the audience amiable and excited. Reid engaged well with this energy, bantering with his crowd and taking advantage of the boisterousness for the lighthearted effects. But when moments required a little more calm, a little more focus, Reid was even still able to lead all his spectators into the appropriate mentality, a much more impressive feat.

All his authentic charisma would be for naught without genuine talent, which luckily Reid has in spades (a heinous pun for which we do not apologise.) Reid’s takes on card tricks, his rendition of the oldest magic trick in the world, and really all tricks that are performed in Watch Closely are performed with, if not total technical perfection, so close as to be nearly indistinguishable from it. And Reid’s effects are performed with similarly spectacular beauty. Reid mentions a love for visual art in this show, and proves this by integrating art thematically into the tricks performed. Not only does he do an homage to a favourite artist, but one of his closing pieces features his own foray into drawing. The pictures created aren’t bad themselves, but what he does with them through magic is absolutely incredible.

Watch closely, Reid insists. Not just for this show, this hour, but through your own life. Not to catch a trick, but to catch a moment. To keep each memory as alive as the magic he creates.

 

More information on Billy Reid and his performance dates can be found here.

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

It takes a good magician to entice a busy Edinburgher to Glasgow on a Wednesday evening. Luckily, Billy Reid is worth the trip.  Reid makes his audience for Watch Closely feel welcome as soon as they step through the door, taking the time to learn as many people’s names as possible.  This allows him to address many of his participants by name when inviting them to take part in his show, giving the entire performance a pleasantly intimate and relaxed atmosphere.

The majority of Watch Closely is close-up card tricks, which Reid performs with neatness and style.  Reid lists the awards that he has received for his magic at the beginning of his performance, but he does not really need to, as his evident skill speaks for itself.  Reid’s card tricks set the standard for precisely performed magic, and his storytelling and comedy are executed with the same dexterity, ensuring that the energy of his performance remains constant as he transitions between tricks.  Watch Closely is narratively and thematically cohesive, as Reid uses stories from his life to gradually guide the audience toward the inspiring message with which he ends the show.

If you are a magic fan, you’ve probably seen some of the same tricks repeated often, especially if you see the same magician more than once. But Reid’s tricks are so visually beautiful that watching them again is a joy more similar to that of revisiting a piece of art at a museum.  The use of color in a trick themed on childhood memories of outdoor adventures sets this tone, and it is epitomized in Reid’s incredible illustrated deck that is always a highlight.

Every so often the right performer at the right time is more than entertainment, but also an inspiration to their audience to view the world differently, or the medium to help them process emotions that they might not have even known needed processing.  Reid conveys all of this intensity with his trademark artistry, in what is still unmistakably and unapologetically a magic trick.  The title of his show initially sounds like standard magician bravado, challenging his audience to catch his sleight of hand.  By the end of the evening the double meaning becomes clear, that Reid uses his magical skills to encourage his audience to pay closer attention to their own lives.

 

More information on Billy Reid and his performance dates can be found here.

THE VANISHING MAN & THE EXTINCTION EVENT

“A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” So say Jean Robert- Houdin, the 19th century French conjurer considered the father of modern magic.  And so be David Aula and Simon Evans. Their two, interconnected shows, The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event, are billed as theatre but are filled to the brim with magic, and it’s impossible to tell what’s the most amazing part. It’s very, very hard to weave magic tricks into a compelling, coherent story, or at least is must be because it’s very, very rare to see it done well. This is one of those rare times. Both The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event would be excellent examples of great theatre even without the magic, even on just the strength of their stories, but the physical element of illusions puts them onto a whole new level.

These shows, which are better reviewed together rather than apart, are also better viewed together rather than apart. Although they can technically both stand alone, the emotional impact of the second one, the Extinction Event, is much stronger for seeing the former. The pertinent background is shared at the beginning just in case you haven’t seen them both, but that information packs so much more of a punch when learned over the course of a show than in a quick sentence of catch up. In The Vanishing Man, a magician and his friend take us through the mysterious case of the fictional Edwardian magician Hugo Cedar, and his greatest and most terrible trick- vanishing without a trace (or much of a trace) off London Bridge. This long dead magician and his story have an immense effect on the two magicians, and like any magic show, not all is as it seems. In The Extinction Event, these same men dip into the impact of machines on our lives, the implications of them for magic, and the possibilities of hypnosis. All done with such astoundingly intelligent storytelling and incredible heart, it may actually make you cry.

Almost as notable as the stories themselves is the unique way Aula and Evans have of engaging their audience in interacting with the shows. The instructions are almost impossibly efficient and effective, and make every single member of the audience invested in the performance and leave no one feeling embarrassed or really singled out.  Not counting the audience, these are two man shows, and Aula and Evans also excel in their chemistry with each other. Their pacing is flawless, their relationships relatable, and their performances a perfect match.

The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event are the cleverest shows at the Edinburgh Fringe twice over, and are as beautiful and entertaining as they are smart. To put it in no uncertain terms, they are absolutely unmissable.

 

The Vanishing Man can be found at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 14:10 from August 16-27

The Extinction Event can be found at the same place and dates at 15:40

More information on The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event and their performance dates can be found here

CHRIS COOK: CHANCE

Chris Cook mentions in his show that this is his fifth year at the Fringe. Chance is undeniable proof that he’s not only not lost his charm, but is only getting better with experience. Cook is the model of a modern magician in his open affect and obvious affability. Not a magician here to trick you- well, yes, here to trick you, but not to taunt you with it. It’s clear that Cook sees his attendees not just as people for him to fool but as people to invite to an opportunity of wonder, to imagine a life with less repetitive drudgery and more delight.

It’s apparent immediately that Cook puts his volunteers at ease, an impressive feat when pulling them out of the safety and anonymity of the audience to stand on stage in front of everyone and do something they haven’t prepared for. But he instructs well, doesn’t mock, and is quick to make himself the butt of any joke before subjecting his volunteers to it. This has the secondary effect of endearing the rest of the audience to him (because who knows who could be next?) and, combined with his honest humor and breathless exuberance, creates a great atmosphere for the show.

Cook doesn’t shy away from anything that would make his magic relatable to his audience, and in Chance this involves political content. Implying a political stance in a magic show at the Fringe can be risky- your audience probably didn’t come expecting it the way they could for theatre or comedy, and it’s unlikely that at least some of them don’t strongly disagree with you. Due to a slight but noticeable muting of the audience’s good cheer surrounding his political content, it’s possible that this choice is occasionally having a real effect on Cook’s show. But a magician is not a vehicle for illusions, they should have principles and ultimately this political engagement is a daring and admirable choice. Cook proves that magic doesn’t have to be a frozen moment of late 19th/ early 20th century “golden age” that so many magicians like to hearken back to and romanticize, but instead can thrive as a sharp, to the point engagement with politics and his audience’s anxieties. Never faltering or losing a beat of his abounding charisma, Cook can dip into places more vulnerable, more uncertain, more real- and takes his audience with him.

Cook illustrates in Chance the breadth of possibilities of magic; the stories and situations and emotions that can engage with it. His magic enlivens his audience and makes them receptive to his finale- his encouragement and inspiration to breathe, to let their defenses fall, and to remember their basic human connection. Chance is not only a fantastic magic show to experience Cook’s impressive skills and great humor, but a reflection on our unbreakable capacity for wonder and hope, despite it all.

 

Chris Cook can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 15:10 from August 16-26

More information on Chris Cook and his performance dates can be found here

 

 

VINCENT GAMBINI – THE CHORE OF ENCHANTMENT

☆☆☆☆☆

Vincent Gambini’s meta-show about magic, The Chore of Enchantment, encapsulates the pessimism of 2016.  It is especially fantastic for those who still haven’t quite gotten over the ridiculous politics of that year.  Most of The Chore of Enchantment is less magic and more Gambini’s stand-up comedy style routine about his disillusionment with both magic and the real world, with bits and pieces of tricks used to enhance his monologue and illustrate his descent into melancholy.

Gambini creates a sense of unease from the start as he steps on to the stage in a sleep mask, and describes the room, the audience, and himself as figments of his dream.  While the big illusions that he describes do not manifest—no floating yoda or hole in the fabric of reality appear on the stage—the card tricks that do are still enjoyable, and create a bridge between Gambini’s mind and reality.

Equally atmospheric are the smaller bits of magic that Gambini performs as he gets into the politics of his show.  Gambini makes coins and balls disappear and reappear as he talks about the repetitiveness of performing magic, and brings magic back to the forefront of the narrative when he makes a staff appear with a loud snap.  He does occasionally run the gag for a little bit too long, but this feels like part of the show, as it periodically transitions the audience from awe to near-apathy with each new effect.

Gambini’s interactions with his audience are charming.  He does not use a lot of participants, due to the relative scarcity of magic in his show, but he reacts remarkably well to their mistakes and interruptions, seamlessly working them in to his performance.

By its nature, The Chore of Enchantment does occasionally feel a little bit pretentious in its exaggerated self-consciousness.  Gambini pokes fun at his past career in conventional magic as inadequate given the current state of the world, while performing what is, at its heart, a magic show in his own attempt to come to terms with those real issues.  In spite of its stated conclusions that magic is simply another distraction, the effectiveness of The Chore of Enchantment is evidence in support of magic’s usefulness as a tool for performers to address real world issues.

In The Chore of Enchantment, Gambini balances entertaining his audience with inspiring them to think, both about the real world and the nature of entertainment.  His comedy still feels timely two years after the events that he discusses, and his minimalist magic augments his words and astonishes his audience.

 

More information on Vincent Gambini and his performance dates can be found here

THE CHICAGO MAGIC LOUNGE

☆☆☆☆☆

As cheesy as the phrase ‘the talk of the town’ is, the Chicago Magic Lounge has already built a notable reputation for some of the best evening entertainment in Chicago. As deserving as the magicians are for this renown, it would be near professionally negligent not to begin with the role of the Lounge itself as a contributing character to the show. What has been created here is impressive to the point of utterly remarkable. From the time you enter through a laundromat – and no more secrets will be revealed about that, you’ll have to find out for yourselves – every step within the Lounge is a perfectly curated experience with mysteries and history in every nook and cranny. One could probably visit fifty times and see something new on each of them, both in their surroundings and in the magic performed for them.

At the early evening show on April 28th 2018, the featured stage act was performer AJ Sacco. A man of flexible flair, Sacco had also been one of the wandering magicians doing close up magic for attendees during the preceding cocktail hour. Sacco’s close up easy and amiable demeanor shifts seemingly effortlessly to a cheeky onstage persona. At some points clowning around with silly and undeniably funny tricks, Sacco also has turns of magician-as-beat poet, an unexpected but compelling act.

Sacco led for the headlining stage act, Mago Gozner. Hailing from Mexico, Gozner jokes about having a poor understanding of English, but he certainty understands how to win the crowd. Radiating a kind of affable self consciousness, Gozner excels at including members of the audience in his show while making them a part of the joke, not the butt of it. To be completely straightforward, Gozner excels at every moment of his performance, executing tricks with everything from cards to Rubix cubes to toilet paper with near perfect comedic timing.

Although there are only two acts to the main event, it is extremely worthwhile to swing for the extra post-show show in the Lounge’s 654 Club. On this night performed by Justin Purcell, the half hour of magic in the 654 Club gives an opportunity for intimate close up magic. At this point in the night most of the audience has been drinking for at least two hours, and some people will have had quite a lot.  The combination of the close quarters and their own personal intoxication means that some attendees are, if not exactly unruly, vocally overexcited. The single most remarkable magic performed by Purcell is just how well he handled these people. This is not to say he isn’t an excellent conjurer, but his ability to go along with the (repetitive, unyielding, loud) exclamations shouted at him without giving them the spotlight was one of the most impressive things to see all night. Purcell also impresses with some very classic magic performed with such dexterity and charming sincerity that it is impossible not to be dumbfounded, even if you’re familiar with the concepts. Far from being just an added bonus, Purcell’s performance at the 654 Club is an integral aspect of the Chicago Magic Lounge experience.

The magic scene in Chicago may not be in it’s golden age anymore, with men in top hats sauntering around, sawing women in half (which many women are probably okay with ending), and committing trademark infringement, but the Chicago Magic Lounge seems to serve as a promise that the greatest parts of this scene will never die. Not only is this theatre a worthy successor to the magic of days gone by, but it is a vibrant and exciting reminder that truly good magic is eternal and there’s so much more to be delightfully deceived by.

 

More information on the Chicago Magic Lounge can be found here