#DAVE: LITERALLY THE BEST MAGICIAN

☆☆☆☆

Some magicians favour subtlety. Dave Alnwick is, unapologetically, not one of them. In one of his shows, he asks his audience to worship him, and in this, his “Literally the Best Magician” show, he seeks to prove that he has earned that title. “Literally the Best Magician” has had an incredible run so far at the Fringe, with daily queues down the street—the Voodoo Rooms even had to set a start time for the queuing, as people were turning up to see Dave well over an hour before the show’s start time.

Alnwick performs a huge variety of tricks to prove his magical superiority, from sleight of hand tricks to mental magic. A mentalist highlight from “Literally the Best Magician” is when he has volunteers draw on white boards and then matches up the drawing to the person who drew it. One of the constants across Alnwick’s performances is his incredible charisma. While many of his tricks are uncommon and intrinsically impressive, he does include a few of the more traditional ones in his bid for ultimate superiority. In his capable hands, these basics are just as engaging. Alnwick also consistently teaches his audience a few of the magical fundamentals, which is an enjoyable way for the audience to feel involved. In this case, he instructs us in some basic sleight of hand. Learning the principles involved only gives the audience a greater appreciation of Alnwick’s skills.

It is worth mentioning that the multi-talented Alnwick has written a choose-your-own adventure book, that also includes instructions to learn magic tricks, which he sells at the end of each of his shows. For Alnwick’s fans, his magic does not have to end when his show does.

Is Alnwick really “Literally the Best Magician”? Spectator chatter certainly swung in his favour by the end of the show. Members of his audience could be overheard comparing him favourably to Derren Brown. Ultimately the question is best answered by every individual for themselves, but it is definitely very enjoyable to watch Alnwick state his case. “Literally the Best Magician” does not try to tell a story, or inspire anything in its audience except for a love of Alnwick. But it is ridiculously fun to watch, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

CHRIS COOK: CONCEALED

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Chris Cook’s “Concealed” show, as per the title, is deliberately set in a cozy venue off the beaten Fringe path. Combined with the show’s low-key publicity, it sets an intimate tone for this afternoon act. Cook maintains this intentionally cultivated relaxed vibe throughout his series of street magic style tricks.

One of the reasons for this intimate show, Cook explains, is that several of his illusions are too physically small to be appreciated by the full audience in a large scale venue. Coin bending, one of the first tricks that he performs, is an obviously apt example of this. Audience members should perhaps be warned that when they lend Cook a coin they will not receive it back in working condition, but they do get a fun magical souvenir out of it, and Cook is kind enough to not use any volunteered pound coins for this particular effect. 

The small venue and audience size also allow Cook to perform an extended selection of card tricks. Exciting examples of these involve Cook producing a chocolate bar out of a brief flash of fire, and causing a deck of cards to disappear from within an audience member’s clasped hands. Cook ends with classic street magic sleight of hand, involving three cups and balls. Here his personal additions to the usual standards, and his use of the motifs of that trick to recall earlier moments in this show, make for an exciting finale.

“Concealed” is an ideal show to highlight the neatness and elegance of Cook’s magic style, some of which may get lost toward the back of a larger venue. It also allows Cook to engage more with his audience, as he performs magic surrounded by his viewers instead of up above them on a stage.

The choices that Cook makes in his different shows display his versatility as a magician, as they each have very different atmospheres and feature distinct aspects of Cook’s magical skills. For Fringe goers who are only able to see one of Cook’s shows (or perhaps even only one magic show) “Control” is the one to go to. However, for those with an extra hour to spend in Cook’s delightful company, “Concealed” is an engaging and entertaining option.

DAVID NARAYAN: THE PSYCHIC PROJECT

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At heart, David Narayan’s “The Psychic Project” is an incredibly fun history lesson.  Narayan illuminates his audience on some of the weirder aspects of Cold War history in this uniquely formatted magic show.

Narayan guides the audience through several basic magic tricks that have their roots in the Cold War era. Magic fans may recognize the series of five cards with different shapes, or have seen some variation of the dangerous bag trick in other shows. Some might have even heard brief explanations of these props from other magicians. For most magicians, however, historical explanation is just used as a few seconds to ground their take on the trick in magical history. For Narayan, on the other hand, the magical past is the central point of his show. The audience gets to hear much more in-depth explanations of the history behind the magic, and watch Narayan re-create the original versions of each trick with audience volunteers.

As this act combines both magic and history, it is best appreciated by those who enjoy both of those things. The historical narrative places the series of tricks in context, and the addition of the illusions in turn brings that historical narrative to life. It understandably appeared reasonably popular with parents and children on the day of the debut performance, as it is both an entertaining and educational show. The magic is interspersed with both Narayan’s historical lectures and a slideshow presentation on the relevant Cold War scientists, complete with audio of pertinent facts and quotes.

In a fitting tribute to history, the final couple of illusions focus on dangerous magic. The scientists who developed the techniques discussed were doing so to ultimately create better methods of hurting their enemies, after all. This does make the show more specifically geared toward those who prefer to watch magic for the thrill rather than for the wonder, but all benefit from the stark look at wartime magic. These final elements do contain an unexpectedly playful moment, however, blessedly lightening the mood. 

Narayan’s “The Psychic Project” is a fascinating combination of magic and history. Fans of both, but especially of magical history, are sure to find this show exceptionally engaging.

AARON CALVERT: AWAKEN

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A popular mind reading magician, Aaron Calvert starts his “Awaken” show by correctly deducing what several members of his audience are thinking, as all good mentalists should. However, the main part and highlight of his performance is his hypnosis. This seems like the reason why he draws such a huge crowd at midday, as massive queues flock to his sizable venue, everyone fascinated and eager to be hypnotized.

Calvert begins his hypnosis segment with a bi-tonal sound that, combined with his verbal prompting, is designed to lull the susceptible members of his audience into a state of hypnosis. The benefits of this segment are not entirely lost on those of us who are less susceptible. The tone used is quite relaxing, and Calvert’s voice is pleasant and calming.

The success of this segment is, of course, dependent on Calvert finding enough suitable audience members to hypnotize. Calvert leads them on to the stage and puts them through a series of tasks to demonstrate that they are indeed under his sway. None of these tasks are difficult or embarrassing, and this portion of the act comes off more as a pseudo-scientific experiment to demonstrate Calvert’s abilities rather than a spectacle to entertain the audience at the expense of the participants—a welcome approach.

Calvert also makes an effort to include a flashier bit of hypnosis in his show. He guides one of his hypnotized subjects to pop a balloon through the power of negative thought. Here he again exhibits his care for his audience, making sure to calm his participant from this state of heightened negativity before restoring her mind to her own control.

The finale of the show, once all of the hypnotized individuals have been released from that condition, is designed to showcase Calvert’s ability to predict the group decisions of his entire audience, regardless of each individual’s susceptibility to hypnosis. However, it feels a bit rushed—perhaps, on this day, the other sections of the show took longer than expected—and the audience is left a bit confused as to whether Calvert actually achieved his goal or just shuffled things around a bit to make it look like they were in the right place.

“Awaken” is certainly an enjoyable show for fans of hypnosis. Any imperfections in Calvert’s mentalism are quickly forgotten, for Calvert is a talented performer whose showmanship makes him fun to watch on stage. In any case, an audience coming for hypnotic feats will leave well satisfied with their experience.

A CASE OF WONDERS BY SAM FITTON

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With a promisingly exciting premise, “A Case of Wonders” opens on Sam Fitton running through the train station, only to miss his train. He then falls asleep waiting for the next train, and enters a dream world where magic is real. The performance continues in this realm to showcase Fitton’s sleight of hand and juggling tricks.

Fitton’s show includes many high points. His magic tricks are frequently well performed and fun to watch. His pantomimed vending machine is a particularly creative means to incorporate his train station theme with classic coin tricks. Once the character that he performs overcomes his initial fear of his new environment, Fitton’s rapport with the audience improves noticeably. While a few of his interactions with audience volunteers feel a bit mean spirited, with the audience encouraged to laugh at their peers for not following Fitton’s vague instructions, Fitton rewards his volunteers with refreshments as he leads them back to their seats.

Unfortunately, the promising premise itself runs into a few performance issues as well. The extended introductory sequence feels a bit too long, without much of note happening. Fitton’s pretend surprise to be transported to a magical alternate reality is rather too exaggerated as well, making him appear genuinely uncomfortable to be performing in front of a crowd. Additionally, the Case of Wonders itself feels under-used, considering its place in the title of the show.

Many of these flaws may be significantly mitigated from a more childlike perspective. Fitton’s exaggerated acting and teasing of his volunteers seems like the sort of thing that would play much better to an audience full of children. This is no small thing, entertaining children is notoriously difficult. Many magicians give up on it entirely and only aim their shows at an adult audience. Fitton’s child friendly act thus establishes this show at the heart of an important niche of family magic.

“A Case of Wonders” is a perfect show to take young children in need of a bit of morning entertainment to. From an adult perspective it is not without its flaws, but is still solidly fun and admirably creative.

WONDERS AT DUSK

☆☆☆☆☆

Scott Silven’s  “Wonders at Dusk” is aptly named, not just for the literal time at which it occurs but also for the thematic progression of the show itself. Silven’s opening remarks about his childhood struggle to pinpoint the moment at which dusk turns in to the proper darkness of night draft a verbal blueprint for the evening. The audience is drawn in by Silven’s autobiographical stories and gradually captivated by his mind reading powers, ultimately leaving the venue spellbound and in wonder at his skills.

This act is not entirely a magic show, but also includes elements of storytelling, as previously mentioned, and also Silven’s interesting take on mindfulness meditation. At various points in the evening, Silven encourages the audience to be present in the moment, likening time spent as his audience to a detour on the path of life. His act quickly becomes very relaxing. Unlike the vaguely threatening kind of relaxation common in hypnotism shows, in which the performer asks the audience to give up conscious control of their bodies, this is a much nicer relaxation, in which Silven simply asks that the audience soften the boundaries between their conscious and subconscious thoughts. Such a lowering of these boundaries will, says Silven, allow individuals in the audience to connect with each other in a manner conducive to their reception of his mentalist magic.

The magical elements of the show are similarly remarkable. Silven repeatedly correctly deduces information generated by the audience, always with safeguards to demonstrate the veracity of his magic. Hidden envelopes and pouches placed throughout the room prior to the audience’s arrival are proof to assure the audience that Silven predicted their responses before he had even seen the evening’s crowd. These hiding spots add an extra layer of whimsy to the evening, as Silven directs audience members on a hunt through his props, or climbs on top of furniture, to collect the evidence of his powers of prediction.

Silven’s “Wonders at Dusk” is indeed a wonderful show to experience. Its pacing and theme make for a calming end to the typically hectic day at the Fringe. At the same time, the magic is exciting to watch, with the final illusion in particular leaving the audience in amazement. We leave knowing that, just as surely as the dusk has become night, Silven’s uplifting magic has stolen over the evening and left its distinct impression on our minds.

AVA BEAUX: THE MYSTERIOUS TALES OF POE

☆☆☆

Ava Beaux’s Edgar Allan Poe-themed magic show ‘The Mysterious Tales of Poe’ can be found in a cozy room underneath The Street bar. Relatively new to performing, Beaux opens her show a little nervous at first, but quickly became more confident as she gets further along, and delivers a spellbinding performance.

Rather than jumping straight in to a succession of magic tricks, Beaux skillfully ties her show together through her re-telling of Poe’s short stories. Her act is not, in practice, strictly a magic show, as her spoken word performance shares an equal role. This is certainly to our benefit, as Beaux is a captivating storyteller. Her illusions and storytelling complement each other perfectly to bring Poe’s tales to life.

Beaux also uses sound and practical effects to enhance her act, her use of sound being particularly effective. The knocks of her tell-tale heart initially sound almost like background noise from the bar above, and gradually become more insistent and distinct as Beaux reaches the concluding lines of the story. This particular re-telling is an impressive highlight of her show.

While Beaux often uses her magic abilities to great effect, this aspect of her performance occasionally feels a little bit clumsier. Her hands at times stray a little too close to her suspiciously puffy sleeves, and her transitions after her tricks sometimes feel a bit hasty and awkward. Her final magic trick, as well, feels rushed, and, on the occasion of this review, did not land as solidly as she might have hoped. But while these are issues, given the multi-faceted nature of Beaux’s act they are fairly minor in context. Her magic tricks will probably quickly improve as she gains more experience, perhaps even over the course of this year’s Fringe.

The Mysterious Tales of Poe is well worth watching for the overall effect of Beaux’s performance. She excels at creating atmosphere—the audience truly feels transported in turn to a ship on a stormy ocean or a mysterious old mansion in the middle of the countryside. This show is an inventive and exciting addition to the Fringe magic scene. While her magic surely will continue to improve, Beaux’s storytelling is so fascinating that her audience can hardly notice any flaws.