author: Hannah S

PAUL NATHAN: MAGIC HOUR

A charming San Franciscan, Paul Nathan makes clear to his audience from the beginning that his Magic Hour isn’t really a magic show, it’s just us hanging out with him and watching him perform some magic tricks.  It is not even really an hour, as the scheduled run time is forty minutes!  However, Nathan invariably gets caught up in performing and runs late.  Nathan switches up his show depending on the audience, and is even open to requests, inviting everyone present to suggest a trick that they might have seen him perform on TV or on Youtube.

When it started to rain, as is so common at this year’s Fringe, Nathan kindly allowed the audience to enter the tent that he is to perform in a few minutes earlier than planned.  The last few bits of set up become an appropriately casual introduction to the “not really a show”.  Nathan gradually starts introducing himself to his intimate audience during this time.  By the time the magic starts properly, being invited up to participate in the tricks feels less like joining a performance and more like helping Nathan show everyone the cool skills that he has mastered.

The magic itself is exceptional.  The Magic Hour is a close up magic show, and Nathan seems to favor his cards, but the one effect that he performs with several large coins is done to perfection as well.  Nathan encourages the audience to lean in for a closer look, and even move their chairs behind him to try to catch him out.  By the end of the hour, the majority of the audience has abandoned their chairs entirely to lean in as closely as possible to Nathan’s card table.

The time flies past in Nathan’s fascinating company.  He seems to take genuine delight in his performance.  Those looking for an hour of fun magic tricks can hardly do better than Nathan’s Magic Hour.

 

More information on Paul Nathan and his performance dates can be found here.

AARON CROW: FEARLESS

In Fearless, Aaron Crow performs an entire hour of dangerous magic, with few breaks for less scary effects.  It is in part a master class on the types of dangerous magic tricks that the audience might recognize as having been performed by other magicians, here done with Crow’s exemplary skill and distinctive style.

Through all of the danger, Crow is courteous to his audience participants.  They might briefly worry that they could cut themselves on the glass that he scatters on stage, the sword that he wields, or his perfectly chiseled cheekbones, but the vast majority are asked to take more supportive roles as Crow manipulates his dangerous props.  The few who are given more active roles look comforted by Crow’s quiet encouragement.

Crow fully commits to the aesthetic that he has chosen with his costume changes, set design, and clever use of lighting.  He has even perfected a characteristic style of movement to match and accentuate this.  Crow’s performance is almost dance-like as well as being magical.

Where such a show might falter would be in taking itself too seriously, leaving the contrived danger open to ridicule.  Luckily Crow embraces the inherent ridiculousness of his genre.  He performs silently to music, but his sly sense of humor shines through in his movements, especially in his direct interactions with his audience members.  This maintains audience engagement without relying on simply escalating the danger of the performance.  Crow certainly does this as well, but the multidimensional nature of his performance allows the danger escalation to come across as a choice rather than a transparent attempt to keep the audience’s attention.

Fearless is fantastic, but it is a very stylized take on a specific genre, which may limit its appeal.  That being said, even those who are not a fan of dangerous magic will see the delight in Crow’s wit and the flow of his movement, and could not fail to be touched by his charming finale.

 

More information on Aaron Crow and his performance dates can be found here.

CRAIG STEPHENSON: MAGIC, MIND READING, AND TELERABBITRY

Craig Stephenson risks being easily dismissed as gimmicky by framing the majority of Magic, Mind Reading, and Telerabbitry around the conceit that a stuffed bunny toy is his performance partner.  However, he cleverly chose a very cute gimmick, so it pointing out is less of a criticism and more of an adorable fact.  Mr B is introduced at the very beginning of the show, and while he is sadly sat by the side of the stage for a fair amount of the middle (Stephenson explains part of this absence as Mr B being made nervous by the scarier tricks), he does play an important role in the final reveal.

Stephenson’s other gimmick is that he claims to be the only magician of the Fringe who will prove that he cannot do magic or read minds.  He does follow through on explaining some of the simpler processes behind the tricks, but anyone who has seen nearly any other magician will recognize this as a common tactic used to make the magician’s more complex tricks look all the more astonishing.  Stephenson does inevitably fall into this convention.  It works as it should, the following feats do indeed have more impact after his initial explanations, but this does make his initial claim sound pointless in hindsight.

This is especially the case as Stephenson’s magical abilities speak for themselves.   The majority of his effects emphasize mentalism over sleight of hand.  His mind reading using various written materials is solidly impressive, and his version of Russian roulette is scary enough even without the use of firearms.

Stephenson is a strong enough performer, especially as a family-oriented magician.  His use of a bunny toy prop seems to indicate that he has embraced this strength.  At the end of the show Stephenson mentions that while he does not read his reviews, Mr B the bunny does read them.  So, in that spirit… Great job, Mr B!  You deserve an extra carrot tonight!

 

More information on Craig Stephenson and his performance dates can be found here.

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.

 

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC IN A JIFFY

☆☆

As magic show themes go, Elliot Bibby’s for Magic in a Jiffy is the most instantly relatable.  Who among us has never had trouble with buying things online?  Bibby covers common pitfalls, from a late delivery delaying important plans and buying something that arrives looking not quite how you expect.

While many of Bibby’s tricks use techniques that fans of magic might find familiar, each one is impressively tailored to fit his theme.  Bibby reads minds using the names of large companies with a focus on those in the shipping industry—albeit with an anecdote about McDonald’s that much of the audience seems to have no idea how to respond to—and predicts a second participant’s random choice with the help of a magically speedy Amazon delivery.  This is even noticeable in the little moments.  Many magicians make the exact same joke about sniffing their markers, so Bibby’s take on this theme is a fun surprise and perfectly suits his onstage character.

At the show reviewed, Bibby unfortunately made an uncharacteristic number of slip-ups in performing his sleight of hand, that an observant audience member would not be able to help but notice.  This was perhaps simply due to illness; Bibby’s voice was noticeably hoarse.  However, aside from those issues, Bibby powered through with an admirable amount of energy.

Bibby interacts with his audience participants with care and respect.  One woman in particular was slightly distressed at the halfway point of a trick involving her bank card, and Bibby quickly switched off his microphone to reassure her.  While this did briefly interrupt the flow of the show, it is commendable that he valued an audience member’s emotional comfort over his own performance.  This moment cut through the stage presence to reveal Bibby as a genuinely good person.

Magic in a Jiffy is charming in its skillful construction and delightful in Bibby’s adept performance.  It is well worthwhile for good fun magic.

 

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: NEON FUTURE

☆☆☆☆

It is rare that a show literally starts with a bang.  It is unclear whether Kevin Quantum decided to use explosives in Neon Future specifically for this purpose or whether the bombs came to mind first, but he took full advantage of the opportunity that their involvement afforded him for an exceptionally exciting introduction.

The explosives set the tone for the show.  Quantum’s theme matches his title—the future—and from there his show explodes in all directions, encompassing everything from personal musings into the possibilities of a robotically enhanced humanity, the dialectic debate of destiny versus free will, The Matrix… and more typically magical pretensions to genuine clairvoyance.

Quantum is fantastically committed to this theme, altering every trick he performs to fit it.  A highlight in this respect is his version of the oldest trick in the world, which in Quantum’s world becomes a miniature futuristic teleportation device.  Quantum’s explanation of the history of the trick detracts from the moment ever so slightly, taking the audience out of the moment, but in fairness this is in keeping with the capricious nature of the flow that Quantum cultivates.

The audience has a high proportion of children, and Quantum is excellent in working with them.  He makes a point to involve them in the show, often selecting his participants entirely from the children of the audience, and tries to involve as many of the enthusiastic volunteers as is feasible.  On the other hand, there are points in the show where it is best to minimize child involvement, especially the sections involving the explosives, and Quantum makes the responsible decision to choose adult participants at these times.

Neon Future often feels like it is going in every direction, all at once, so it is impressive that Quantum makes it feel like a cohesive show.  This is perhaps in part him embracing that his early evening time slot and nominally semi-educational theme means that he might regularly attract a younger audience, and tailoring his act to suit those tastes.  And even adults can appreciate the childlike joy of watching things go boom.

 

More information on Kevin Quantum and his performance dates can be found here.

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.

 

MANDY MUDEN: IS NOT THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

☆☆

With her bold style and even bolder personality, Mandy Muden is anything but invisible.  Muden’s premise for “Is not the Invisible Woman” is that women “of a certain age” are overlooked often enough to feel invisible, and she has set out to prove that she, at least, still commands attention.

However, Muden is let down by her magic, which is often basic and clumsy.  Her tricks are at their best when she incorporates them into her overall performance, as this marginally raises the audience’s emotional investment.  A section illustrating a romantic relationship ending poorly using several bits of string shifts Muden’s performance to an unexpectedly melancholic tone, despite the maintenance of her playful character, but is a highlight in how she uses magic.

Perhaps ironically, Muden’s many jokes about and references to being a woman “of a certain age” get old fast, especially as they start to sound repetitive.  It is possible that viewers who feel like they fit in to the category that she describes would appreciate this element of her show a bit more, and that she intentionally caters to this audience.  She is at least consistent in maintaining her theme.

Muden develops a patchy relationship with her audience, teasing her participants  slightly more than necessary, even when the participant in question was visibly uncomfortable. She was lucky in that the majority of her participants responded well to this approach.  Her repeated instructions to get her male participants to weigh themselves to contribute numbers for part of her final reveal could be construed as commentary on social pressures on women’s bodies.  However, it is left to the audience to decide whether her method of making this point is too neglectful of the similar pressures on men’s bodies that may be relevant in the lives of her participants.

Muden has a solid goal in her show in demonstrating to the audience and perhaps also to herself that she is not limited by her age and gender.  Her execution may have a more niche appeal.  Nevertheless she certainly succeeds in her aim—in fact, it is difficult to imagine Muden ever being overlooked.

 

More information on Mandy Muden and her 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.