author: Ali S

ASHTON CARTER: MYSTERIOSA

In Ashton Carter’s Mysteriosa, he explores the stories of his family history through a series of illusions, both revisiting the mysteries of his ancestors lives and toying with the concept of reaching out to them, through Spiritualist practices, after their deaths.

The beginning of the Fringe can be a stressful time for performers. The material is often untested, the audiences unknown. For a magician, there comes an even more challenging twist to this anxiety: their audience is anxious too. Though you cannot go to a magic show and not expect the looming threat of having to participate, you do not know what form this participation will take. The audience depends on their magician to win- not quite their trust, but their support,  from the beginning moments, or else what’s left is difficult to salvage. Ashton Carter begins, and continues his show, visibly terrified by the situation at hand. His hands shake, his voice shakes, he gets tongue tied, and is seemingly at a loss for what to do from one moment to the next. This creates a sense of unease immediately that does not go away for the rest of the show.

The audience’s wariness of course is also reflected in a disinclination to interact. No one is inspired to want to take part, and those who ultimately do at Carter’s urging do so begrudgingly.  The only common feeling in the crowd is not captivation with the performer, but empathy for one’s fellow onlooker. At the performance reviewed, the show is stolen by a single crack by one audience member.  An entire Fringe show, and the sole highlight is a nervous joke by someone else who is also (maybe) paying to be there.

It perhaps goes without saying at this point, but the material itself is not strong. The illusions are tired, the story is tedious, and the climax cloying and out of place. Finally, there comes a baffling conclusion. Through most of Carter’s show, he has achieved a ineptitude that could and should, for the most part, be pitiable. However, he crowns the whole thing off by concept-dropping Christianity, both in a way where it cannot be argued that that is not what he meant, but where he was too cowardly to actually say ‘Jesus’ in a magic show. Because yes, if you start talking about Jesus in a magic show, 90% of the time unbelievers will be uncomfortable and believers will be offended. And taking into account Carter’s decision to use a deck of cards with an ethnic slur on them earlier in the show, Mysteriosa blows past ‘pitiable’ for a strong finish in ‘dreadful’.

More information on Ashton Carter and his performance dates can be found here.

ASH PRYCE: PARANORMAL ILLUSIONIST

One of the most common ways of engaging with Spiritualism in its heyday was an intimate parlor session. Just you, the medium, and a few other select attendees. Ash Pryce’s show Paranormal Illusionist, in this sense, is simply picked up and moved from a parlor to the side room of an only slightly busy bar off an only slightly busy street. But even though the masses of Fringe attendees haven’t found it yet – and fair, it was only day one of performances- Paranormal Illusionist delivers an interesting and well-wrought experience.

Exclusivity isn’t the only thing this show has in common with a genuine Spiritualist experience. Pryce has a lot of knowledge to impart about Spiritualist practices, and all of it accurate, with no unnecessary sensationalism. He is demonstrably aware that Spiritualism is compelling on it’s own, if the audience gets to see it happening in their own hands. The illusions of Pananormal Illusions all involve audience participation, but, a comfort to the wary, all of this participation is lowkey and comfortable to take part in. The audience members enjoy getting to interact with each part as much as they do getting to observe them, and are treated with respect from their illusionist for their trouble.

Participating in the show also makes the audience even more aware of Pryce’s skill as a magician (for of course that is what most successful Spiritualists were, magicians telling you one extra lie). Thanks to the strength of his theme, Pryce was able to do magic tricks that come off as unique and original because they are encased in a overarching story, even if that isn’t completely so. And with these tricks, he performs smoothly, keeping his attendee’s attention exactly where he wants it.

Paranormal Illusionist hasn’t found all of it’s audience yet, but when they find it they will find a clever and well crafted show, as educational as it is enjoyable.

 

 

More information on Ash Pryce 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.

 

LUKE CLOSELY: A MUSICIAN DOING MAGIC!

☆☆

It’s challenging to stand out from the hoard of Edinburgh Fringe magicians, but Luke Closely has found an interesting way, and it’s not just his preciously punnish name. (Luke Closely? Like Look Closely? Get it? Don’t worry, he’ll make sure you do.) The twist, rather, is that Closely is the Fringe’s one and only musical magician. The combination of these two talents makes A Musician Doing Magic! a unique and intriguing experience.

Fingers Piano Bar is, quite obviously by it’s name, and apt venue for the musical side of this show. Less so apt for magic, with pillars and tucked in booths, but Closely does well working with the particularities of his venue, instructing his audience of where to avoid sitting and making sure to elevate anything he was working with sufficiently. He also demonstrates admirably his musical talent, especially his keyboard skills. Closely overtly has a deep and ebullient passion for music, and his naked enthusiasm is inspiring and makes his show all the better.

Unfortunately, Closely seems to struggle with some of the magic side of his show, at least during the performance reviewed. The integration of the two talents is thoughtfully done, including a mind reading trick involving audience member’s favourite bands, and a trick involving his own (attempting to) play an instrument. But Closely flubs through his tricks a few times, and isn’t able to cover the mistakes up. To his credit, the mistakes never make him falter, and he is able to at least brush them off and move on with the performance without drawing attention to the problems. His confidence here is impressive and turns moments where his show could have gone off track into an opportunity to get the empathy of his audience.

A Musician Doing Magic! is a show with a great concept and an genial performer, and has definite potential to be a solidly entertaining production. There’s no better time that the Edinburgh Fringe to work through material with largely supportive audiences, and with a little more practice, Luke Closely definitely has a fantastic show in the making.

 

Luke Closely can be found at Fingers Piano Bar (Venue 221) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:10 from August 21-26

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

CHRIS DUGDALE: UP CLOSE!

Chris Dugdale is pure Las Vegas cheesiness, and if you don’t like that you won’t like this show. But even if you don’t, you have to admit, he’s the best at it around. Up Close is perfectly on-brand Dugdale, loud and smarmy and yet undeniably entertaining.

Dugdale is the definition of polished and slick. Not a second of the show lags, not a single thing a volunteer says throws him off, and every single joke get uproarious laughter and applause. One almost expects magicians of his brand of theatrical to go for some laughs at their volunteers’ expense, but he is absolutely professional and utterly respectful. Dugdale only ever laughs with his volunteers, and showers them with compliments to offset the unease of being onstage in front of so many people. Having been brought onstage myself, I can attest that he absolutely should be commended for this deference.

Up Close is not a show of terribly original magic; it’s not even new to him, which will be very apparent if you’ve seen him at the Fringe before. But his experience with the material means that it is flawlessly executed. And despite this repetition, none of the content ever comes across as stale, with Dugdale pouring his ample enthusiasm into every word and gesture.

Chris Dugdale’s Up Close is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the best at being ridiculous you’ll find. For an hour of fun and funny entertainment, expert showmanship, and masterly magic, Up Close is a solid pick.

 

Chris Dugdale can be found at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:10 from August 18-26

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

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

More information on Ben Hart and his performance dates can be found here

ELLIOT BIBBY: MCMAGIC MOMENTS

☆☆

According to Elliot Bibby, his is the only Scottish-themed magic show at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. This isn’t something that would necessarily be obvious, but once you think about it, you realize it’s true. It seems a little wrong that this fantastic festival that absolutely explodes across Edinburgh for a full month every year would lack representation of their hosts in a category as significant as magic, but that’s exactly what’s happened. That being said, Bibby certainly does his homeland proud in this snappy and sweet show.

The Scottish theme is ever present but not invasive, making an appearance with a Saltire as the focal point of the sparse stage decor, Scottish music, and in Bibby’s stories of his grandmother in Skye. These stories provide Bibby’s foundation for his show, and work well to connect each element of his magic into a compelling experience. Winding effortlessly between different style of tricks, from working with cards to mentalism and beyond, Bibby proves that his enormous skill at sleight of hand is only matched by his charm. Bibby also succeeds in rolling with the unexpected. He keeps his cool and deals admirably with his occasional tech problems and confused volunteers.

Bibby’s greatest strength, even considering his fast-paced and impeccably performed magic, is his ability to engage his audience. He is genuinely funny in an unpackaged way, for although he certainly has mastered his practiced patter, he also has a open and cheerful affect that makes everyone happy to be there and comes across friendly and sincere. Bibby has perfected the balance of the aloof mystery that so befits a magician and heartfelt authenticity.

To say Elliot Bibby’s McMagic Moments is the best Scottish-themed magic show at the Edinburgh Fringe might be a little too cheeky. But just because it is the only one doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth a visit, not just for the novelty, but because it’s a fun and exciting show.

 

Elliot Bibby can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 16:30 from August 17-19, 21-26

More information on Elliot Bibby and his performance dates can be found here