UK

SIMON SOUTH: CLOSE UP CONJURING

☆☆

South presents soft, intimate array of close up tricks to an audience that is able to gather as closely as prevailing pandemic norms allow. The magic used consists of several classic tricks that may be fairly familiar to magic fans in the audience.  South works his way through several card, coin, and hoop tricks, all performed well.  A fun variation sees him perform a trick using the ubiquitous PBH Free Fringe program guide.  This essential guide to every Fringe schedule is much thinner this year than usual, perhaps making it easier to give it the centre-stage treatment that it gets at this point in South’s show. 

There is no issue in South’s performance of his magic, but the show feels a bit stilted with inconsistent transitions.  After some of his tricks the audience feels like they are just watching South tidy away his props before he takes out the next one and continues to perform.  Having a more consistent stream of patter or integrating the necessary transition points in to the act may help the show flow more smoothly. 

Given the reduced audience sizes of this pandemic Fringe, South is able to include the majority of his audience in the magic.  Participants don’t even have to get up on stage, as South is able to include them where they are sitting.  South is friendly and respectful with everyone who he includes in his show. 

In Close Up Conjuring South does exactly what it says in the title.  It’s a pretty standard, boilerplate show from a performer who has the magical skill to perform convincingly to an audience sat very close to him.  This is a solid show for those looking for an afternoon of magic. 

More information on Simon South and his performance dates can be found here.

DAVID ALNWICK: NIGHTMARE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆☆

The first nightmare of David Alnwick’s Nightmare Magic is trying to get a ticket – he is still part of the PBH Free Fringe, but is so popular that placeholder tickets are given out an hour before the start time in an attempt to reduce his usual hours-long queues.  This has effectively shifted the massive queuing to an hour earlier, and turned it in to more of a scrum in the bar area of his venue.  This publication has said it before and it bears repeating, Alnwick is wildly, ridiculously popular.  Nightmare Magic is framed as a demonstration of his mysterious objects’ powers, but what it really demonstrates beyond doubt is that Alnwick more than earns his reputation with every show that he performs at the Fringe. 

Alnwick goes light on the actual magic here.  Nightmare Magic is as much a one man play as it is a magic show, and he easily holds his audience’s attention without it.  As much as Alnwick establishes that he doesn’t need magic to be an effective performer, being a magician he did of course create a show that uses magic to bring his stories to life.  His variety of mentalist and sleight of hand tricks are performed perfectly.  Between the perfection of his execution and the well thought out props, the magic blends seamlessly into the plot of the show. 

The show is scary, especially for the easily frightened like this reviewer.  Alnwick’s participants are not spared from the frights, but it is nothing out of the ordinary for show billed as a horror story.  For those who might be worried, it’s more of a creeping sensation of impending doom than anything like jump scares.  You might want a comforting cup of tea and an episode of your favorite sitcom before bed. 

Alnwick has reached a point in his career where he could coast on the formidable skill set that earned him his reputation and probably still cause daily stampedes for a spot in his shows.  But Nightmare Magic shows that he has instead chosen to innovate, pushing his own boundaries and the boundaries of magic as a genre.  In watching a range of magic shows it is often evident that Alnwick in particular is a source of inspiration for many young Fringe magicians, so it’s especially nice to see him modeling a wide range of approaches to magic across his portfolio of shows.  This year the cult leader has gone a little bit mad, and is more interested in discovering his audience member’s names than hearing them chant his own.  Next year could be anything, but knowing Alnwick it will at the very least be well worth a watch.

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

SIMON SOUTH: MID FRINGE MIRACLES

☆☆☆

Surprise plot twists and big reveals can make for exciting entertainment, but sometimes it’s nice to go in to a show knowing what to expect and having those expectations perfectly matched.  Simon South’s Mid Fringe Miracles is that kind of magic show.  There’s no theme, philosophizing, or plotline to unify the magic, but it’s done well, and South is an engaging entertainer to watch onstage. 

South utilizes a range of magic tricks that tend toward the classical.  There is even a multitude of brightly colored scarves – spot on for a perfect caricature of a magician.  A brief bout of mind reading touches on the lack of women in magic, an important point in this often homogenous industry, but does not dwell on it.  A highlight is a very pretty effect involving smoke, fire, and a couple of glasses.  South here shows a modern creativity in prop choice, using an e-cigarette to create the smoke. 

This odd Fringe has often resulted in unusually reduced audiences, and South unfortunately fell victim to this circumstance.  However, he made the most of those who were there.  A couple of individual disruptions, including one poor soul who came in expecting a rapper and left when he realized he was at a magic show, failed to derail South’s performance, as South cheerfully commented on the interruption and returned to his act.  The smaller audience size means that absolutely everyone participates, creating an intimate communal atmosphere. 

Mid Fringe Miracles is just about as quintessentially magic as it can get.  Trick follows trick and South guides us through them with an unendingly chipper flow of jokes and stories.  It’s the comfort food of magic shows, and in a year of so many real life plot twists and unexpected changes maybe this is exactly what magic fans will want. 

More information on Simon South 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.

ANDREW MCKINLAY: PERSPECTIVE

☆☆☆

The titular theme of Perspective is mentioned briefly in Andrew McKinlay’s show, but not really well explored.  This appears to be intentional and probably for the best.  At the reviewed show he certainly didn’t get much of the kind of audience who would be willing to follow along with a big theme.  There are hints of a more thoughtful kind of show that McKinlay might have put together for a different time slot, that would definitely be of interest to see at a future Fringe. 

There will always be increasing numbers of drunk people at Fringe shows as the night goes on.  In Perspective Andrew McKinlay appears to have embraced his fate, as one of the later slots at a venue with a great drinks menu, of having to deal with high numbers of drunk people in his audience.  This is what is showcased of his skill set.  And the magic is nice too, it’s a solid foundation for McKinlay to use to corral the drinkers into a reluctant audience willing to cooperate with his show. 

McKinlay uses a variety of sleight of hand and mentalist tricks throughout the set.  These are performed well enough, certainly for the composition of the audience.  The crowd was especially fond of an effect early in the show, in which McKinlay invites a range of participants on to the stage to draw a face, after which he attempts to match the drawing to the individual who drew it.  It is perhaps indicative of the evening that the participants’ antics drew more of a reaction from the audience than McKinlay’s successful completion of the effect. 

As will be evident from the preceding paragraphs of this review, McKinlay faced a challenging audience at the reviewed show – weirdly drunk for a Tuesday evening and entirely unafraid to heckle frequently.  McKinlay handled them like the professional that he is.  It was actually difficult to gauge how disruptive the audience was while sitting in the show, as McKinley was so adept at responding to them and redirecting the audience’s attention that the progress of the show flowed smoothly around the many interruptions.  It is in hindsight that it is clear how hard he was working to make his show look so effortless. 

Perspective may not change the audience’s perspective of much.  But McKinlay knows what he’s dealing with and delivers a solid magic show, to amaze even the most drunk of Fringe-goers regardless of whether they want to be amazed or not. 

More information on Andrew McKinlay 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.

CHRIS CROSS: A PANDEMONIUM OF PARLOUR TRICKS IN A PANDEMIC

☆☆☆☆☆

For those of us who haven’t heard of or seen him before, it is too easy to underestimate Chris Cross.  From the wacky name and monogrammed belt buckle, the aggressively arranged alliteration of his 2021 show title A Pandemonium of Parlour Magic in a Pandemic, to the line in his show description advising “NOT for the easily offended”, it’s easy to assume that he must be overcompensating for something.  Fortunately for his audience this is absolutely not the case.  Cross brings the magic to back up the swagger of his over the top character in a funny and interesting performance. 

Perhaps more impressive than any of the magic is how skillfully Cross manages to playfully poke fun at the audience without coming across as a bully.  It’s a tough thing to balance, if the many performers who are unable to do so are any indication, and Cross makes it look easy.  Of course in magic shows the audience is generally called upon to take a more active role, and Cross’s participants on the evening of this review were well chosen.  A cadre of Canadian students in particular rose to the occasion to perfectly match Cross’s energy on stage and enhance the show with their participation. 

Magicians often claim that they’ll show the audience tricks that they’ve never seen before, but his claim typically leaves those who have seen many magic shows feeling disappointed.  Cross, on the other hand, genuinely follows through with a series of tricks that this reviewer at least hasn’t seen before (and we at World Magic Review have seen a fair share of tricks).  This part of the show that is a bit of a history lesson is exceptionally fun to watch.  Cross’s enthusiasm for these weird old tricks that have long since fallen out of fashion breathes new life into the old props.  His style seamlessly blends the more standard card and escapist material with the tour of historic props, in a one man demonstration of the range and development of magical performance. 

Cross’s Pandemonium of Magic is a necessary stop at this year’s Fringe for anyone who has ever considered themselves to be a fan of magic, even if for no other reason than the historical interest of the old-fashioned props that he has brought back to the stage.  That being said there are plenty of other reasons to see his show, between his comedy, sleight of hand skills, and perfectly choreographed escapology.  It’s as difficult to pigeonhole his act as it is to keep him in a straitjacket, and his show is all the better for it. 

More information on Cross and his performance dates 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.

MAGICFEST OPENING NIGHT CHRISTMAS GALA

☆☆

Despite the name, the MagicFest Opening Night Christmas Gala wasn’t necessarily the most Christmassy of experiences. But festivity aside, if one was in search for an eclectic display of extraordinary magic, the show definitely met those expectations.

Kevin Quantum was the perfect compere, putting the audience at ease from the start with slick card tricks and groovy dancing. Quantum’s expertise shone when a particularly difficult child participant threatened to derail the show. The way in which Quantum humoured the child whilst telling a completely different story to the audience was something only the best in the business could pull off. Quantum’s love for magic and the acts was admirable and ensured the audience was as excited as he was for each set.

The first act, Matthew Dowden, performed an array of traditional magic tricks that were well executed. Simple tricks that would have been less exciting had Dowden performed them himself were elevated by the use of audience participants. Particularly memorable was the gobsmacked look on a skeptical child’s face after they were left on stage to perform a trick’s finale alone – a bold risk that only a confident magician would be willing to take.

The highlight of the night was Young Magician of the Year 2019, Adam Black. The only act to tell a story through his tricks, he ensured that his set was cohesive rather than simply a demonstration of impressive magic. Black is a natural on the stage and his passion for magic shone brightly throughout. Black has a quality that is hard to put your finger on. He simply does something a little bit different, something a little bit special. He performed tricks that you had never seen before, and even if you had seen others do the tricks previously, the way he performed them was ingenious.

Powerful Chloe Crawford added an element of danger to the evening with a couple of gruesome tricks that the audience could only watch through their fingers. Crawford’s stage presence was especially notable, allowing her to perform her entire routine without uttering a single word. Particularly remarkable was the way in which, in total silence, she gained the trust of her participants and convinced them to join her in taking dangerous risks on stage. With a silent set, however, people watch Crawford’s expressions intently. She would do well to maintain her calm and confident expression even when things may not be going fully to plan, as with talent like hers, she will surely always skillfully resolve any issues- as she did on the night.

Your deepest darkest thoughts are not safe with concluding act, Colin Cloud, around! Cloud’s mind reading skills are simply unbelievable – he drew out numerous pieces of detailed information from various audience members with such pace that the audience did not even have time to applaud his efforts. Instead, they could only sit in a stunned silence. What makes Cloud’s performance most impressive is the sheer volume of information he extracts from the room in such a short amount of time – and the way he does it too, through taste and smell, is cunning.

Overall, the MagicFest Opening Night Christmas Gala was a thrilling evening of diverse acts. This diversity was, however, perhaps to the detriment of the show, which ultimately lacked cohesion under a common theme. But although lacking in that particular Christmas magic, it nonetheless satisfied the cravings of magic enthusiasts.