author: Ali S

CHAMPIONS OF MAGIC

The British have a long history of invading America, in so many different ways. But one of the most unexpected invasions to date (although this is perhaps up for debate) is that of the British magicians. Having spent several years touring throughout the UK, the Champions of Magic have arrived on US soil in an attempt to internationally stun and amaze and triumph, as any good champion should- and as these five magicians have.

Although a team effort, the strength of the Champions is not in any form of group chemistry or magic genre alignment- the Champions almost never share the stage (with the exception of double act Young & Strange) and they perform very distinct styles of trickery. No, instead, their power is instead in representing all the relationships an audience member can have with magic.

‘Magic as wonder’ is exemplified by Edward Hilsum, a remarkable magician with terrifyingly adept fingers. In his first act totally mute, and even after that quite reserved in patter, Hilsum still manages to create the kind magic that makes his audience fall similarly silent in enchanted awe as objects appear and disappear effortlessly in front of their eyes.

For Fay Presto, the relationship inspired is perhaps more ‘magic as nostalgia’ or even ‘magic as a cultural institution.’ The tricks are classic and the humor is dry, and a beat too sharp for the audience- although we all get the joke, albeit a few seconds too late, but if you can keep up Presto leaves you as amused as impressed with her magical manipulations.

The mind reader of the Champions, naturally, is responsible for ‘magic as a challenge’, perhaps the most engaging relationship of them all. There’s always something a little bit combative between magicians and the audience- the man or woman on stage is there to trick us, after all, and everyone wants to be astute enough to catch them in the act. But nothing is more tricky than when they can even see into your mind- as Alex McAller seems to do. Bouncing from knowing the cards you have to the item you’ll pick to the names and words safely stored only in your memory, McAleer’s effusive energy makes him impossibly charming despite the frustration he inspires by being far too clever. If McAleer wasn’t on the top of his game at the Waukegan, IL show, then he has far too much game for one man.

Finally, the most important relationship, ‘magic as the joke’, is supplied by Richard Young and Sam Strange. While most the Champions are funny in their own ways, Young & Strange take the humor of the art to a whole new level. Filled with a laddish arrogance that the audience is delighted by despite themselves, this duo purposefully makes their illusions utterly ridiculous but in the best possible way, throwing grand illusions at the audience while simultaneously refusing to take themselves even a tiny bit seriously.

The Champions of Magic, despite gamely sharing this triumphant title, are more accurately four magic shows in one. Although this does create a little stylistic whiplash, we are ultimately fortunate for it, for there’s something for everyone and anyone to appreciate in this artful, magical experience.

THE ILLUSIONISTS

☆☆☆☆

The Illusionists claim to be the “largest touring show in magic history anywhere,” but it is not just in size that they dominate the stage magic world. This show features a broad breadth of magic sub-fields, ensuring that no matter what style sparks your interest, there’s something spectacular for you at this performance.

The magical emcee of the Illusionists is Jeff Hobson, whose showmanship is the greatest boon to the performance as a whole. This comedy magician has a grandiose, flamboyant persona and wickedly slick wit, with a clever crack at the ready no matter what his volunteers or the audience do. Not only are the jokes fast but his hands as well, and in one memorable case, his tongue.

Attending a magic show, an audience expects to see some things they can’t explain. But having the thoughts plucked right out of their minds has it’s own special shock value. This illusion is delivered by Colin Cloud. Billed as ‘the Deductionist,’ the comparisons to Sherlock Holmes are blatant. Funnier than Benedict Cumberbatch and more dapper than Jeremy Brett, Cloud’s astute predictions are both impressive and terrifying.

Andrew Basso is  ‘The Escapologist’, and recreates one of Houdini’s greatest feats, the Water Torture Cell. Although, if the reaction of the ladies in the audience is any indication, he’s a bit more fit than his inspiration. It’s a bonus for them that the cell walls are clear, so we can see exactly how Basso expertly breaks out of his bonds, even under the intense pressure of holding his breath for several minutes.

Anti- Conjurer Dan Sperry strikes an attitude contrast to his peers, with no geniality to offer Sperry instead has a sullen menace that pairs appropriately with his wince-worthy tricks. No matter how desperate you are to see what’s going down, it takes a brave soul to peek through their fingers at this grotesque magic.

Rounding out the cast are ‘The Inventor’ Kevin James, with dramatic displays of craftily constructed magic, ‘The Manipulator’ Halim An with a beautifully choreographed sleight of hand, and ‘The Daredevil’ Jonathan Goodwin with heart-stoppingly stressful stunts that are also much to the credit of his assistants.

It is perhaps not a straight-forward compliment to say that the Illusionists are like magical hors d’oeuvres. Delivering short performances in rapid- fire, you never exactly feel like you’ve gotten the meat of the magic show, or like you’ve gotten to see each individual magician at their best. Just when you get attached to one flavor of magic, you’re two conjurers later. But there is an undeniable benefit to this recipe, that even if one magician isn’t to your taste, you get at least three more that are. Food metaphors aside, because they’re getting labored, The Illusionists is the perfect magic show to make you realize that you do actually like magic shows.

March 29, Heymann Performing Arts Center, Lafayette LA.

More information about the Illusionists and further dates of their tour can be found here.

 

BIBS ‘N’ BOBS RELOADED

☆☆☆☆

Bibs ‘n’ Bobs Reloaded is a magic show exactly as it sounds, being constructed of simple objects from an ordinary Morrisons bag. As well as, of course, being a pun on magician Elliot Bibby’s surname. This show is a prime example that something created with the most humble of objects can become something fantastic.

As it is an unavoidable aspect of the Fringe, venue conditions are generally not fair play to comment on in a review. But when an act surpasses the limitations of their stage spectacularly, it is worth noting upon. Bibby transcends the obstacles his particularly difficult venue with impressive agility. It isn’t just his understanding of the necessity to elevate his tricks enough for everyone to see- although that is something a lot of Fringe magicians, including ones with ticketed shows, could learn from. But more specifically to his art, Bibby wove together his act so well that it grabs your attention away from any discomforts and distractions.

Bibby’s skill is in his presentation as well as attention to detail. Composed and dapper, Bibby charms without any of that stereotypical magician smarminess. His onstage persona is just genuine enough to foster a connection with the audience, but aloof enough to maintain a sense of mystery. He expertly handles heckling, both of the negative and of the positive but obnoxiously intrusive varieties. He has unfaltering intuition of when to humor the interjections and when to ignore them, having literally no missteps in this regard despite it being prevalent throughout his show.

In terms of actual illusions, Bibby intertwines the traditional and the imaginatively unique to create masterful magic. Using everything from cards and fire to the titular bibs and bobs in his bag, Bibby nonetheless maintains the needed cohesiveness to make his show polished and professional. Slick but funny from beginning to end, Elliot Bibby unquestionably proves his magical prowess and potential in Bibs ‘n’ Bobs Reloaded.

Originally published here.

AAABEDUATION: A MAGIC SHOW

☆☆

“We are the first show… in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide” magicians Malin Nilsson and Charlie Caper crow happily, claiming this as the reason for their strangely named show. This seems odd to be the sole reason to name a show, but as no other explanation is given, we just have to go with it. This sets the trend for this show which might have been inspired at the start, but doesn’t exactly follow through into a satisfying result.

Nilsson and Caper both hail from Switzerland and have been doing magic together for several years, so it is unfortunate that the chemistry together is the weakest aspect of the show. Caper is the comedy magician of the pair and Nilsson the choreographed illusionist. Instead of the two parts of the performance complementing each other, the combination is jarring in its delivery. However, they are both reasonably strong separately, so not a hopeless dealbreaker.

For most of her part of the show, Nilsson does magic tricks silently to music. They are very elegantly performed and she has an excellent sense of stylistic development, but they are a bit hackneyed. Even if someone only has seen a couple other magic shows, they have probably seen these illusions before. That’s no problem if presented with original flair and personality, but as she does them they just come across stale and the applause is accordingly muted.

Caper delivers with such endearing cheesiness that even things that shouldn’t be funny are because of his perfect presentation. An ongoing joke with a bow tie never fails to gain laughter and his great persona means that – although he also uses traditional magic in parts – it comes across as more original and compelling, if not as well rehearsed.

Caper and Nilsson struggle with integrating the two distinctive parts of their performance, but if they can solve this problem, Aaabeduation will succeed in becoming a bewitching show.

Originally published here

Tricnic

☆☆

Tricnic is a comedy magic show featuring twin magicians Kane and Abel who reject your preconceived notions of the props and common items magic is usually done with and instead perform with food. Tricnic is exactly what it sounds like – a picnic of tricks.

In terms of the tricks, the magicians do not do anything uniquely original or surprising, but that is forgivable in a magic show when the presentation is skillful and entertaining. However, in this regard they also struggle. Surprisingly, considering that they are twin brothers, Kane and Abel have a more awkward and stilted lack of chemistry than random strangers shoved on a stage together would. This uncomfortable dynamic is distracting from the show and means that even when the tricks pay off, it is hard to take any pleasure from them. Luckily, this magic show is situated next to a bar but that still wasn’t enough for some of the audience at the performance I attended, as some people slunk or even blatantly strolled out mid show.

To their favour, Kane and Abel are competent magicians, and their chosen shtick of a trick picnic is fun. Unfortunately, the bits that involve audience participation- which is most of them- the magical duo prove that they are just as weak at interacting onstage with people who aren’t related to them. In cases where poor direction leads audiences to fumble with what they are meant to do, they are mocked by the magicians. This is to be expected, but the lack of any true, connecting humor in their mockery makes it sound harsh and uncomfortable to the audience. It also means that the different tricks are drawn out to the point of feeling pained as Kane and Abel attempt to get the necessary participation accomplished. Even when they get there in the end, any true momentum and impact has been irrevocably lost.

Tricnic is a free show, and the idea of it isn’t bad at all. With more rehearsal with each other, and by adopting a more natural banter as their onstage patter, the brothers could probably get past their wooden interactions.and deliver an entertaining performance.

Originally published here

STRICTLY COME TRANCING

☆☆

Lunchtime is perhaps not the right time for a hypnosis show for adults. Strictly Come Trancing is a show where you can see how it could have been great – if only the sky had been a bit darker and the audience participants a bit tipsier.

The beginning of the performance is promising. Despite hypnotist Ben Dali’s suit screaming ‘sleazy’, his brand of humor is genuine and unaffected, connecting very well with his audience and establishing a base of comradery. Unfortunately, this is quickly lost.

The first thing that goes wrong is that Dali invites his participants onstage instead of doing an opening induction of hypnosis on the audience while people are in their seats. Giving people the option of bringing themselves onto the stage of their own will means that they later feel welcome to leave it in the same fashion. Once people are onstage, the hypnotic inductions are unnecessarily long. Perhaps Dali doesn’t feel comfortable starting the show without this, but the length of it seems boring – and quite probably for those onstage as well. Once the show actually starts, the audience has high expectations for the wait to pay off. Sadly it does not.

In most shows, you cannot blame the audience for the performance being bad. But it is difficult to find fault with Dali’s act. Rarely are all the participants in a stage hypnosis show going to be hypnotised. This doesn’t matter if people play along and give their friends something to laugh at. After all, they choose to be on the stage. But despite Dali’s best efforts, he cannot manage to summon up the necessary humor and connection with his participants to make them want to stay. To his credit, he troops on through the act impressively despite the quickly dispersing participants, but this actually just makes it more painful to watch.

Dali’s Strictly Come Trancing is a funny show with a great title, and is a great and free way to spend an hour laughing at your friends doing silly – but not humiliating – things. But in order for everyone to appreciate it, the people onstage participating need to commit to the show. Because if not, it is an tragically awkward experience.

Originally published here

COLIN CLOUD: KILLS

☆☆☆☆

Colin Cloud is the ultimate rockstar mentalist, or as he styles himself, deductionist. He has succeeded in cultivating the most intriguing aesthetic for himself, combining the Victorian mysteriousness of his idol Sherlock Holmes with his own flashy modern tech and dramatic reveals. The astoundingly talented showmanship he demonstrates means that even if his deductions should falter, the entertainment factor never will.

The first part of Cloud’s show consists of him deducing information about the members of his audience- personal or even secret information. There are some awkward falters in this bit, and it seems that truly accurate deduction might rely on being familiar with a large variance of nationalities, which is quite a challenge with the international crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe. However, he does not allow setbacks to disrupt the momentum of the show whatsoever, and brushes off the mistakes so easily and with such quick wit that you would almost believe it was intentional. As he warms up, as well, his powers of deduction kick in most impressively. Even though the shocked gasps of people having unspoken information revealed can never really get old, Cloud makes sure the show does not stagnate by filling it with many different methods of deduction. All with the same premise, but happening in unique and hilarious ways. Every time you think you know how he does it, Cloud immediately proves you wrong.

Just when it seems the show has ended, Cloud lights a candle and solemnly informs us of a new skill he has learned, a new outlet of his powers. What is the worst thing someone with Cloud’s particular talents could do? Well, it’s right there in the title of the show. Unfortunately, perhaps in a haste to become akin to the next Derren Brown, Cloud has premiered this trick before it was finished being perfected. There is a large amount of leading to make sure the audience understands the magnitude of what is about to happen, which would be acceptable if it weren’t for the fact that it never really happens. As far as presentation goes, this demonstration has no faults. It is slick and intriguingly tense. But if you’re paying attention, you will realize that there is no definitive payoff. However, the reality is, it would not be obvious to everyone in the audience, and that is to Cloud’s credit. Colin Cloud is a skillful pied piper of his audiences, and if he says “be impressed”, we will be. After all, nothing could be as impressive as his closing trick, where one deduction from the beginning of the show comes back around to prove that, ultimately, Colin Cloud is smarter than the rest of us combined.

Originally published here