UK

CHARLIE CAPER: SLEIGHT OF HAND

☆☆

Charlie Caper is perhaps best known for his delightful robots.  While these do make a cameo appearance in Sleight of Hand, Caper has reduced their role to focus on his sleight of hand magic skills.  He has a charming bumbling style that he can only pull off because his skill is so well honed.  Nevertheless, the robots that do feature still manage to steal the show.

The more involved robot sequence that Caper has included features his miniature robot self sharing a newspaper with his real self.  The magic is there as Caper destroys and restores the paper, but the real magic is in Caper’s chemistry with his robot self.  Watching them move in choreographed unison is such a fun moment, and even sweeter is seeing Caper gently hand props to his robot, so they can collaborate in amazing the audience.

The magic that Caper performs is a combination of more common tricks with some that are more specific to him.  Even the magic that the audience may have seen before is done so well that they cannot help feeling astonished.  His note changing is a perfect example of this—a trick done so commonly, by so many magicians of varying skill levels, that even casual magic fans may suspect how it is done.  However, even those who think they know the secret behind this trick will question that knowledge when they see Caper perform it.

Caper excels at magic, but it is often the non-magical sections of his show that truly set him apart.  He ends Sleight of Hand with what is less of a magic trick and more of a light show, while sharing a lovely life philosophy that brings meaning to the pretty flickering lights.  Caper is capable of creating magical moments far and beyond the anticipated trickery.

 

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

DAVE ALNWICK: ACTUAL MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Dave Alnwick uses a quote from one of this publication’s past reviews on his flyers this year, that lets prospective audiences know that Alnwick’s shows are notoriously busy and that they will have to arrive early to get a seat.  This reviewer initially failed to heed her own warning when trying to review Actual Magic.  Luckily it is worth the wait (and the return trip to the Voodoo Rooms).

The stand out feature of Actual Magic is how smoothly the threads of its story are woven into the performance as a whole.  Alnwick expresses fear that if he allows himself to put too much of his personal life into his performance it will just come across as emotionally manipulative.  Actual Magic drops hints and teasers throughout the show, so by the time he reaches the emotional heart of the story it comes across as genuine.  It is more than the one moment, in hindsight the entire show is composed as a memorial—and in a way that is uplifting and inspirational rather than incapacitated by grief.

The magic is incredible as well.  Alnwick emphasizes his mentalist tricks in this show without limiting himself to them.  One of his sleight of hand tricks excitingly makes use of his flyers rather than normal props like coins or cards.  All are perfectly performed to Alnwick’s usual high standards.  While Alnwick spends more time telling a story at this show than usual, the magic does not feel forced, but is an essential element of the narrative.

Alnwick mentions that he has been coming to the Fringe for a decade.  Those who have seen his comedy magic shows, in past years or even earlier in the day at this year’s Fringe, will see Actual Magic as even more exceptional.  Alnwick may come across as insecure in other shows.  Past themes of trying to convince everyone to join a cult to worship him, or prove that he is literally the best magician, build an inherently defensive relationship with the audience even by magic show standards.  It is an act that clearly works for him, as he is consistently incredibly popular.  Actual Magic, on the other hand, feels built on trust in his abilities as a magician and performer to connect with his audience, which is so wholesomely lovely to see.  Audiences seeing Alnwick for the first time at Actual Magic may not read this over-analysis in to it.  They will just have to settle for a perfectly constructed and flawlessly performed magic show.

 

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

GRIFFIN AND JONES: SURPRISINGLY GOOD MAGICIANS

Everything that Griffin and Jones do in Surprisingly Good Magicians is done in their distinctively silly style.  They wouldn’t just read an audience member’s mind, they must use their “mind reading goo”, a sticky fluorescent substance that is stored in a children’s lunchbox.  And they have a long section in which they use their mentalist powers to deduce which celebrity a volunteer has picked from the hat, in a style reminiscent of childhood boardgames.  The set up for that particular reveal might feel too long in the hands of less experienced performers, but it flies by in Griffin and Jones’s hilarious company. Magic fans might recognize some of the structures underlying their tricks, but Griffin and Jones always find ways to make their magic new and exciting.

Their final reveal of the evening, that you should not believe everything that you are told as all of the mechanisms that they use to produce “magic” are really tricks, initially sounds like the most obvious revelation ever.  However, their explanation is genuinely fascinating, as they go through how they buried the lead in each of the tricks that they performed in their show.

The slapstick magic style that Griffin and Jones have perfected does result in them often coming across as surprisingly good on the first watch, as they control the chaos that rapidly engulfs whatever stage they find themselves on.  This particular show is especially surprising, as these wacky performers discuss a topic as weighty as the proliferation of unreliable news stories, and even make it fit so perfectly into the silliness of their show.

 

More information on Griffin and Jones and their performance dates can be found here.

PIFF THE MAGIC DRAGON: LUCKY DRAGON TOUR

Anyone who might have seen images of a man in a dragon onesie with a dog strapped to his chest and expected Piff the Magic Dragon’s Lucky Dragon Tour to be a classic family friendly magic show would be disappointed.  The Lucky Dragon Tour is more of a parody of classic magic.  There are relatively few actual magic tricks by comedy magic standards, as Piff’s comedy shares the spotlight with his magic, but the tricks that are there are made to count.

The Lucky Dragon Tour has elements of a stereotype of a magic show—a glamorous assistant and a performing animal—but their roles in the show satirize those outdated conventions.  The glamorous assistant does wear a showgirl outfit, dance between tricks, and help Piff set tricks up.  However, the blatant dissonance of her act with the overall sensibility of the show mocks the sincerity of historical use of magicians’ assistants.

The animal performer at the Edinburgh Fringe this year is one of the original Mr Piffles’ many understudies, an employee of Edinburgh’s chihuahua café named Cleo, so that Mr Piffles would not have to undertake the traumatic transatlantic flight from Las Vegas.  This alone underscores a key difference between the Mr Piffles’ role and that of a more traditional trained magical animal.  Mr Piffles is treated very much as a treasured pet.  He shows no signs of having been trained to perform, beyond a tendency to tranquility despite the energy of the show, and is cradled in loving arms for the majority of his time on stage.  He is nevertheless not just a prop but very much the star of the show.

If Piff’s interactions with the audience come across as unkind, it is in such an over the top way that it seems to make fun of stereotypes of magicians or comedians whose attempts at interactive humor stray a little too frequently into insults.  He is watchful of his audience and chooses individuals who respond well to his teasing humor.  His magic is well performed and adapted to fit the show, making good use of a camera to magnify the smaller elements of the tricks for the large venue.

The Lucky Dragon Tour’s satirical take on magic is well worth the hour.  While, to be fair, the vast majority of modern magicians do not embody the stereotypes that Piff mocks, this old school is still a recent memory, and the last vestiges of that old fashioned style do still pop up from time to time.  Even for those unfamiliar with the type, Piff’s skill and humor stand alone as strong entertainment.  Arrive early for a chance at coming across Cleo hanging out in the audience!

 

More information on Piff the Magic Dragon and his performance dates can be found here.

MARK WATSON: LIVING THE DREAM

Man of Mischief Presents… Living the Dream! is advertised with a title and description, but without the name of the performer.  Audience members who find their way down the graffitied corridor to its windowless venue might feel some apprehension.  This is quickly dispelled by the cheery Mark Watson.  He builds Living the Dream on the story of his escape from corporate life to become a professional performer, and his joy in his new career is evident at every step of the show.

The highlight of the show is Watson’s superb juggling.  Other magicians might perform a bit of juggling as a novelty part of their show, but Watson is actually properly a juggler as well as a magician.  While his knife juggling may be a little bit scary, it is well received by the majority of the audience.  Unexpectedly, Watson also juggles cigar boxes.  He tells the story of how this was a classic feature of historical juggling performances, which is easy to believe.  Perhaps no one in the room knows as much about juggling as Watson, but it is difficult to imagine any other reason for him to independently decide that he wanted to learn juggling tricks with cigar boxes.  Regardless, what he does with them is absolutely incredible.

Watson’s magic is a little bit more patchy.  He starts strong, performing an escapist routine to escape from his suit jacket, a symbol of his past corporate lifestyle.  However, several of his tricks involve relatively long set up times, and he does not fill this time as gracefully as he could.  The results are nevertheless impressive.  His interactions with the audience are similarly patchy.  His joking interactions stray a bit too frequently into outright unkindness.  On the other hand, he does still build up enough trust for one especially brave audience participant to allow Watson to juggle knives over his face.

Living the Dream is worth a visit for the juggling alone.  Watson concludes the show by drawing a conclusion from his story, that everyone’s version of living their dream is different, and that he is grateful to be living his.  By this point the audience is happy to share in his pride at finding self-actualization.

 

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

CHRIS COOK: CONSEQUENCES

Chris Cook regularly tests the boundaries of what can be defined as a magic show, and Consequences, his new and most meta show, is no exception.  It is less of a “magic” show and more of an exploration of how magic shows, or at least Cook’s shows specifically, are made.  There might be the initial fear that, due to this subject matter, Consequences risks becoming self-absorbed and bogged down in the individual problems of this one performer.  Fortunately the other regular feature of Cook’s shows is his inspirational take on audience participation, at which he is almost uniquely effective—and in this Consequences is again no exception.

Those who have seen Cook previously might recognize many of the tricks used in Consequences as his dependable standbys.  This makes sense in the context of the show.  In a scene where he pretends to be performing at a children’s birthday party it makes sense to see him perform a card trick with an especially sweet ending.  In a show with an overarching theme of struggling to come up with new ideas this recycling of tricks is simultaneously cleverly immersive and cheekily self-referential.

Cook’s magical abilities are superb.  Perhaps in part because Consequences uses so many recycled tricks, Cook performs each one essentially flawlessly.  This is particularly important in a show such as Consequences, as a less skilled magician complaining about the trials of successful show-writing might come across as bitter and resentful.  Cook’s undeniable expertise bolsters Consequences’ implicit claims to genuine self reflection.

Many magic shows end with the magician revealing that they had predicted the audience’s behavior from the very beginning, turning the entire show into one big mentalist trick.  The ending of Consequences is almost exactly the opposite.  Cook attributes the success of his final magic trick to the power of a chosen audience member’s aspirations rather than his own skill, and his final “reveal” is nonsensically circular in a way that somehow still supports Cook’s ultimately inspirational message.

Consequences is an interestingly constructed and heartwarming magic show with a lot of character.  Cook’s onstage persona might be seen to struggle with creating an inventive new show, but the effectiveness of Consequences is evidence in support of Cook’s imaginative talents.

 

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

RENZ NOVANI: ORACLE

The title “Oracle” and its poster featuring Renz Novani with a crystal ball initially appear to be very old fashioned.  However, Novani has brought the oracle theme into the modern day.  He even begins his show by reading audience members’ minds using Cards Against Humanity cards, which both brings more of the audience’s personality into play, and helps the participants as they have something more relevant to remember than a playing card.  Opening the show with a party game creates a sense of community amongst the audience.  Novani acts more as the host of a premonition party than a mysterious oracle for much of his performance.

As the host, Novani gets the entire audience involved in making predictions.  His use of many audience members in a variation of the Cards Against Humanity section seems to be at least as much for his own (and the audience’s) amusement as it is to directly contribute to his mentalist feats—a respectable motivation.  If Novani took his attempts at making predictions too earnestly he might leave himself open to ridicule, so this mood lightener is clever.

A central element in Oracle calls for everyone in the audience to attempt to act as a successful oracle themselves.  While Novani does not provide anyone with the traditional hallucinogenic drugs to aid attempts at clairvoyance, the trance-inducing music that he plays is relaxing in its own right.

A final part of his show does involve Novani taking on a more classically Oracle role, but even here he is open about using his skills at reading people rather than pretending to have genuine psychic powers.  Despite his joking earlier in the show, Novani never fully shook the ethereal quality of his performance persona, and here it is at its full strength.  Perhaps wisely, Novani keeps his readings encouraging and supportive without presuming to offer specific advice.

Novani’s conclusion to Oracle is ultimately encouraging.  He believes that the future is ruled by choice rather than fate, and has chosen to use his stage to inspire others to take an active role in deciding their own futures.

 

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