STRICTLY COME TRANCING

☆☆

Lunchtime is perhaps not the right time for a hypnosis show for adults. Strictly Come Trancing is a show where you can see how it could have been great – if only the sky had been a bit darker and the audience participants a bit tipsier.

The beginning of the performance is promising. Despite hypnotist Ben Dali’s suit screaming ‘sleazy’, his brand of humor is genuine and unaffected, connecting very well with his audience and establishing a base of comradery. Unfortunately, this is quickly lost.

The first thing that goes wrong is that Dali invites his participants onstage instead of doing an opening induction of hypnosis on the audience while people are in their seats. Giving people the option of bringing themselves onto the stage of their own will means that they later feel welcome to leave it in the same fashion. Once people are onstage, the hypnotic inductions are unnecessarily long. Perhaps Dali doesn’t feel comfortable starting the show without this, but the length of it seems boring – and quite probably for those onstage as well. Once the show actually starts, the audience has high expectations for the wait to pay off. Sadly it does not.

In most shows, you cannot blame the audience for the performance being bad. But it is difficult to find fault with Dali’s act. Rarely are all the participants in a stage hypnosis show going to be hypnotised. This doesn’t matter if people play along and give their friends something to laugh at. After all, they choose to be on the stage. But despite Dali’s best efforts, he cannot manage to summon up the necessary humor and connection with his participants to make them want to stay. To his credit, he troops on through the act impressively despite the quickly dispersing participants, but this actually just makes it more painful to watch.

Dali’s Strictly Come Trancing is a funny show with a great title, and is a great and free way to spend an hour laughing at your friends doing silly – but not humiliating – things. But in order for everyone to appreciate it, the people onstage participating need to commit to the show. Because if not, it is an tragically awkward experience.

Originally published here

OLIVER MEECH’S IMPROVISED MAGIC SHOW

☆☆

Oliver Meech is no stranger to the Edinburgh Fringe, having brought his show When Magic and Science Collide in previous years. However, this Fringe, Meech aspires to do something a little different than a traditional magic show, and combines his skills for illusion with – as the title says – improv. While this sounds very impressive in theory, in practice the link is a bit tenuous. Although Meech does indeed incorporate words from the audience into his show, they are very obviously nonsensical connections and the show would have probably been identical no matter what they were. This is fine on it’s own terms, but if you were expecting the advertised improvisation, you might be disappointed.

Meech’s presentation has a huge variance in its different aspects. In terms of personability and energy, he excels. He has a very amiable, engaging stage presence. This put any volunteers he brings onto his stage at ease. In the performance I attended at least, he tries to focus on children for volunteers, although this may have been simply because the front row happened to be full of them that particular day. This stage presence in personality falls short in visual presentation, unfortunately. Meech’s decision to call his show ‘improvised’ may attempt to cover the sparseness of the set, as if he and we were there by simple accident, making a show together on a whim and out of cardboard boxes. This could have worked, except there is no consistency in it – while one side of the stage has the scribbled-on cardboard boxes, the other side has his personalised (twitter handle plugging) suitcase and a nice room divider. The poor presentation also carries over to his own appearance- dressing casually for a performance is one thing, having large and obvious sweat stains on your clothing is another.

In skill at least, Meech proves himself to be a more than competent magician, performing tricks that have the audience wondering ‘how could he have done that?’ But they do not wonder quite as much as he probably would like, because explanations and lead-ups to the tricks come across as rushed and do not allow for proper consideration of what is happening. While the bouncy, energetic persona of Meech works in terms of charming his audience, it also comes with a tendency to hasten through bits of his show and make them less impressive than they could be.

Oliver Meech’s Improvised Magic show sounds promising in theory, and with more polish and direction, it has excellent potential.

Originally published here

COLIN CLOUD: KILLS

☆☆☆☆

Colin Cloud is the ultimate rockstar mentalist, or as he styles himself, deductionist. He has succeeded in cultivating the most intriguing aesthetic for himself, combining the Victorian mysteriousness of his idol Sherlock Holmes with his own flashy modern tech and dramatic reveals. The astoundingly talented showmanship he demonstrates means that even if his deductions should falter, the entertainment factor never will.

The first part of Cloud’s show consists of him deducing information about the members of his audience- personal or even secret information. There are some awkward falters in this bit, and it seems that truly accurate deduction might rely on being familiar with a large variance of nationalities, which is quite a challenge with the international crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe. However, he does not allow setbacks to disrupt the momentum of the show whatsoever, and brushes off the mistakes so easily and with such quick wit that you would almost believe it was intentional. As he warms up, as well, his powers of deduction kick in most impressively. Even though the shocked gasps of people having unspoken information revealed can never really get old, Cloud makes sure the show does not stagnate by filling it with many different methods of deduction. All with the same premise, but happening in unique and hilarious ways. Every time you think you know how he does it, Cloud immediately proves you wrong.

Just when it seems the show has ended, Cloud lights a candle and solemnly informs us of a new skill he has learned, a new outlet of his powers. What is the worst thing someone with Cloud’s particular talents could do? Well, it’s right there in the title of the show. Unfortunately, perhaps in a haste to become akin to the next Derren Brown, Cloud has premiered this trick before it was finished being perfected. There is a large amount of leading to make sure the audience understands the magnitude of what is about to happen, which would be acceptable if it weren’t for the fact that it never really happens. As far as presentation goes, this demonstration has no faults. It is slick and intriguingly tense. But if you’re paying attention, you will realize that there is no definitive payoff. However, the reality is, it would not be obvious to everyone in the audience, and that is to Cloud’s credit. Colin Cloud is a skillful pied piper of his audiences, and if he says “be impressed”, we will be. After all, nothing could be as impressive as his closing trick, where one deduction from the beginning of the show comes back around to prove that, ultimately, Colin Cloud is smarter than the rest of us combined.

Originally published here

SCOTT SMITH: WONDERS AT DUSK

☆☆☆☆☆

Wonders at Dusk is not just a magic show; it is a magical experience. Scott Smith does not define himself; he does not say, ‘I am a magician, here are the tricks I am going to do for you’. That potential for disconnection from the wonder is not even extended to us as an option. Instead, the entire performance is an immersion into the impossible.

Undoubtedly, the reason so many magicians will regale their audiences with tales of their childhoods is to try and connect us to a memory of wonder. To speak of their own youths, and thus remind us of ours, predisposes us to being a bit more open minded – a bit more willing to suspend disbelief. Scott Smith is only one example of a magician making this artistic choice, but it is arguable that he is the best example of it being done smoothly and artfully. He weaves for us a memory from his childhood, and allows his illusions to develop naturally and gracefully from this narrative.

This is a mind-reading show, so requires audience interaction in order to exist. But while a less polished performer could lose the ambience here with the awkwardness of audience members, Smith expertly keeps it in hand. While seeing other people being made to participate is always inherently funny, Smith keeps it utterly respectful and never embarrasses his participants, which maintains the air of elegance that permeates the show.

His talents for mind-reading are scarily good, which I can attest for personally as a participant. Smith ‘read’ from my mind the name of an object that I had only decided upon at the last second, that I had scribbled on my paper at the last second, and that I had carefully hidden from his eyes. The same skill was used to pick equally hidden words and images from the minds of several other audience members.

As Smith noted by nature of the object I chose, I am a skeptic. And by nature of being a magic reviewer, I have good reason to be. But even considering this, Smith’s illusions of mind-reading, placed in the atmosphere that he creates with his set and compelling words, will have even the most ardent of doubters eager to believe.

Originally published here

TWISTED CABARET

☆☆☆☆

Word of advice: the four stars you see here are only for the brave at heart. Twisted Cabaret is a thoroughly terrifying, thoroughly fantastic and hilarious show of cabaret madness.

We are welcomed at the door of Twisted Cabaret by two resplendently dressed men, guaranteeing a delightful show of the most talented variety artists around. But misfortune has struck, they say! Most of our promised entertainers are on a bus stuck at the border! (Which border, we may wonder? Are they stuck at the border between Britain and France? That’s awfully far from Edinburgh). But all is well, for it turns out that our host would like nothing more than to do every single act himself, assisted only by his grumpy ‘producer’ playing the role of the hunchback emcee.

The success of Frank Olivier in his delivery of this cabaret renaissance man is almost frightening. He has a near distressing acuity at every one of the parts he plays. He jumps from sword swallower to fire eater, juggler, unicycle-riding ballerina, and more, showing unbelievable talent in every role he assumes. Sure, the audience does not really imagine that he has transformed into a stiff Hungarian man when he comes onstage to swallow swords, but that does not make the feat any less astonishing. And every one of these personas maintains the high-energy enthusiasm and hilarity to convince people to participate in somewhat (very) embarrassing bits with him.

In drawing upon audience participation, Twisted Cabaret definitely straddles the line of suggestiveness. Although generally not pushing the participants to do anything too heinously humiliating, and allowing for participant choice, the pressure of the crowd somewhat takes away the legitimacy of that consent. Nevertheless, if you are brave enough and want a good story to tell your friends, make sure to take a seat in the front row.

The interactions between Olivier and his participants are painfully hilarious, but the show would not be complete without the deadpan delivery of the producer turned hunchback, Paul Nathan. His few moments to shine prove that he is a talented magician in his own right, but his more background role to Olivier works as an easy and complementary dynamic.

In noting that this show is for the brave heart, I do not refer only to those shy of participating. The truly terrifying part of this show comes at the finale, with Olivier demonstrating some of his most impressive and shocking skills. I will not give anything away here, but suffice to say, many members of the audience were peeking through their fingers.

Originally published here

EDWARD HILSUM: GENIE

☆☆☆

A family magic show accessible for even the youngest of children, Edward Hilsum: Genie is a charming magical experience.

The show revolves around the simple concept of Hilsum granting the wishes of members of his audience. Upon walking in, people are presented with little cards that ask what it is they truly love and want. These are then collected by Hilsum, and used to inspire the magic he creates. It’s not a complex concept, but due to the young age of most of the audience, this is a positive.

However, one aspect in which the age of the audience might not have been considered is in the staging. It is understandable that many Fringe venues are notoriously difficult spaces to work with, in terms of tech and sight-lines. But family magic shows by nature have a large mix of adults and children. Hilsum should make sure that the majority of his tricks are done at enough of a height that anyone could appreciate what is happening. Leaving the show I overheard a mother ask her son if he liked it, and the boy responded “I think so, but I couldn’t see it.” This is a shame particularly because Hilsum’s skill at sleight of hand is fantastic, and he creates absolutely beautiful illusions.

For some children, the staging isn’t a problem, though, as Hilsum expertly integrates a handful of children into his show. He makes the roles of audience participation relaxed enough that none of the children are scared of being involved. And he definitely has grasped that the best way to win a kid’s heart is to give them something. It isn’t just children that are invited to participate either: wishes are granted for people of all ages.

Originally published here

MAGIKO

☆☆☆☆

A simple set, a modest stage and enough enthusiasm for magic in one man to inspire his audience to audible, astonished gasps. Magiko, with Siegfried Tieber, is an absolute triumph of close-up sleight of hand and mind reading magic.

Performed with tools as simple as a deck of cards, a glass and a book, Magiko invites us to ponder our belief in what is considered ‘supernatural’. Do we believe in luck? Fate? How can someone influence us, without us even realising it? Magiko doesn’t provide answers, instead it tests the answers upon which we had already decided.

The magical illusions of this show would seem to be simple but only in the sense that they are performed with a sparse range of tools. However the effect done and the wonder that is inspired is anything but ordinary. To reactions of utter bafflement, Tieber proves repeatedly that our eyes (and certainly his hands) cannot be trusted. Even after achieving this response, he magnifies it by slowly leading the audience through some of his tricks, telling us exactly how they happen yet, even when ferociously focused, it is impossible to actually see the trick. One moment things are as they appear, the next the unexpected has occurred at the very tips of his fingers.

Despite this obvious technical skill in sleight of hand, the most captivating part of Magiko is the passion of the magician. Tieber has a sense of personal marvel that is absolutely infectious and irresistible. This eager energy is the reason hardly one minute of his show lags. When waxing poetic about the whims of fate and occasionally reminding us of stories that we have not forgotten, Tieber’s enthusiasm ensures that his audience stays at rapt attention.

An important part of Magiko invites the audience to ponder whether, if given the chance, we would choose information or mystery. Regardless of what you may answer in that situation, it is advisable that you do not leave this show a mystery to yourself.

Originally posted here