UK

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.

CAMERON YOUNG: THE SECRETS SHOW

☆☆

The Secrets Show is not quite sure what it wants to be.  The audience may get the impression that it is a test run, in which the performer is looking to figure out what direction he might want to take in his magical career.  Luckily the performer in question is Cameron Young, who is brimming with magical skill and charisma.  Watching him show off the variety of tricks in his repertoire is a pleasure.

Young has a clear preference for dangerous magic, interspersing these risky tricks throughout the show.  His version of the classic trick involving a dangerous bag is of note because he has made the effort to switch up the number of bags and level of audience involvement, giving it a more personal touch.  His interactions with his primary audience participant for this trick have a pleasantly humorous effect on what can otherwise be a fairly scary trick.

In contrast, one of the segments that Young spends a considerable amount of time on is a very sweet extended camping trip story sequence.  Young talks about how his childhood spent camping led to a love of magic (the story of how he encountered a magician in the wilderness is teased but never fully explained) and weaves several tricks into the fabric of the narrative.  He successfully creates moments for the magic and storytelling to complement each other.

Where Young struggles slightly is in blending this narrative approach with his proclivity for dangerous stunts.  It can certainly be done, and Young certainly seems to have the magical and performance skills to create and perform a more cohesive show.  Even when working with such disjointed material his is an engaging stage presence and manages to create a fun magical atmosphere.

 

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

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.