DAVID ALNWICK: NIGHTMARE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆☆

As a reviewer it can be a little bit annoying when a performer reworks a show that previously merited five stars and makes it even better—of course we’re happy for them, and pleased to be able to watch such a great show, but it’s hard to contend with how to rate an already perfectly rated performance. David Alnwick’s Nightmare Magic is similar enough that returning fans will have an idea of what they are getting themselves in for, but different enough to come across as a distinct play/magic show.  Alnwick is exceptional, as ever, and is possibly even scarier than before, but that’s why the audience chooses to attend this show. 

An immediately new feature this year is the playbill that each person is handed on entering.  It features Alnwick’s usual list of recommendations and social media details—the food recommendation section may be new—as well as, more excitingly, a short story written by Alnwick that he asks the audience to read before the show.  Nightmare Magic previously bridged the genres of theatre and magic, but now includes literature as well.  Alnwick’s vision is matched only by his skill, every aspect of this ambitious project is executed to the highest level. 

The acclaim is of course due to Alnwick, but the realized ambition of Nightmare Magic is also a testament to what can be achieved within the PBH Free Fringe.  The PBH is better known for its accessibility for less-well-known artists to put on their first Fringe show or two, but here we see it equally well suited to a seasoned performer at the height of popularity creating bold new work. 

The magic of Nightmare Magic is perfectly executed and perfectly woven in to the narrative.  The most satisfying is watching the final moment of the show slowly revealed over the course of several effects.  Alnwick hasn’t just used magic here, it’s fully integrated and necessary to the narration of his plotline—a truly magical ghost story.  Audience members and participants in particular may feel lightly terrified of Alnwick’s scary character, but no more than is called for. 

When promoting Nightmare Magic in his other shows Alnwick is keen to emphasize that it may not be the right choice for the full range of his fans.  It’s certainly a departure from his classic magic style. Nightmare Magic, however, is perfect if you don’t mind the fright, for when you want to see a wider range of what the incredible Alnwick is capable of. 

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

STUNT MAGICIAN: SABOTAGE

☆☆☆

Danger Dave Reubens is very wholesome for a man who opens his show by drilling holes in himself.  Stunt Magician: Sabotage is premised on Reubens receiving threatening letters from a would-be saboteur, and using the audience to help him discover the identity of this nemesis and save the show, a bit like an interactive magical Scooby Doo.  His larger-than-life cartoonish personality fills the large warehouse, and keeps the undivided attention of even his youngest fans. 

Reubens uses a range of familiar dangerous magic routines to build his storyline, as well as fun danger-themed takes on other tricks.  He definitely doesn’t do any card tricks, which he sounds very pleased about—and to be fair it is unusual for a magic show to feel complete without any cards involved.  His escapology series is especially fun to watch, he demonstrates his ability to escape from a few different types of handcuffs, and his take on Russian Roulette brings in a bit of fear without breaking UK gun legislation or making any members of the audience feel threatened. 

To be fair none of the audience ever feel threatened during Sabotage, regardless of whether they are on or off stage.  While for a few tricks Reubens understandably favors adults to join him onstage, he seems to make an effort to get as many kids involved as possible when appropriate.  The children who do go up to him look delighted to walk amongst the scary-looking props but are kept away from anything potentially genuinely dangerous. 

Reubens is the kind of children’s performer who keeps their adults engaged as well, even if only out of curiosity of how he will resolve his show’s plot, which he does to great effect with his lovely wholesome panache.  He is a great performer especially for parents who want to indulge the excessive sadism of undeveloped young minds while still ensuring that their small ones leave with a positive message. 

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

CAMERON YOUNG: A SECRET SHOW

☆☆☆

At around noon at the Fringe, getting to Cameron Young’s Secret Show feels like an early morning; perhaps the non-Fringe equivalent would be having to get to the office at 6AM. He has less time slot competition from his fellow magicians than with sleep. However, for the early birds it’s a worthwhile way to pass the time.

At the beginning of the show Young introduces the audience to his numbered binder of tricks—instantly appealing for its tidy organization, the audience knows they aren’t in for the kind of chaotic magic show that results in a mess of loose cards and sundry props strewn across the stage. Young allows the audience to choose the number of the trick that he’ll perform. This is a great gimmick, giving everyone a chance to feel agency in creating the direction of the show, and giving each day of the show a distinct flavor. As Young states, anyone who doesn’t like the show is welcome to buy a ticket for the next day and see him perform something a bit different.

Despite giving himself more to master, each trick that Young performed at the reviewed show looks well practiced. A highlight is a card routine that failed to get fourteen year old Young a date with his math class crush. The audience participant enthusiastically returned his flirtatious dance moves, and looked thrilled with the reveal that happened right between her teeth.

As an early show, the majority of Young’s audience were older folks and families with young children. He is great with both age groups, inviting older folks to get in touch with their silly sides and making sure excitable youngsters don’t interrupt him too much while avoiding shutting them down. At least two children in his front row left badgering their parents for magic lessons; we look forward to reviewing them in about a decade and hearing their re-telling of how Young inspired them.

The Secret Show is definitely worth a visit, perhaps especially for families but enjoyable for all ages. This is only Young’s first show of the day, like a few performers he runs two shows a day. However, what really makes him stand out (and is perhaps the most baller move of this year’s Fringe) is that he has this Secret Show through the paid Fringe, and his second show with the PBH free fringe. If it’s anything like this one his second show is surely worth checking out as well.

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: DARK MATTER

☆☆☆☆

Local magic celebrity Kevin Quantum made a splash right before this Sunday afternoon showing of Dark Matter, coming in to the audience to take photos with a few of the families in his front row. Cameras came out up and down the audience as people tried to catch paparazzi shots of Quantum.

It’s unclear just how much of his sold out crowd is there due to his run on Britain’s Got Talent, but he plays a clip of some of his judgement in Dark Matter. The comment made by one judge that Quantum is “like a sexy Doctor Who” is played a few times, and to be fair it is difficult to imagine ever receiving a more flattering compliment. Quantum’s audition took place shortly before lockdown shut everything down, and that theme of returning to new opportunities threads through the show.

Dark Matter is an afternoon show, attracting plenty of families, and Quantum is great with the kids in his audience. One section of the show sees Quantum running up and down the aisle with a pack of cards and other close up props, finding a few lucky children to perform for right in front of their seats. He is followed by a cameraman, projecting the magic to a large screen at the front of the theater, so while the children in question get a special experience no one is left out.

However the indisputable highlight of the reviewed show has to be one of Quantum’s older audience participants, Sandy, who joined him onstage for a series of card tricks. The audience got to watch a lovely bromance blossom between Sandy and Quantum, as they laughed and danced together. Sandy was the kind of visibly delighted, down for anything participant that magicians must dream of. Regardless of how many times members of the audience may have seen this particular card trick performed at other magic shows, Sandy made the experience of it at Quantum’s show memorable.

Quantum’s blend of science and magic is always a cross-generation hit. He discusses at the end of the show that he and his young daughter created a magic education YouTube series over lockdown that is now turning in to a magical education video series for use in schools—a project that sounds like a perfect fit for Quantum’s range of skills. While the specific magic of his relationship with audience participants may change from day to day, Quantum is, as ever, a hit of the family-friendly Fringe program.

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

KANE & ABEL: TWINPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Kane & Abel didn’t have to look too hard to find each other as their magic partners, they were lucky enough each have to have been born with the ideal magician with whom to share the stage. Twinpossible puts their sweet sibling relationship at center stage. They didn’t look far for their premise either, going for the theme of “twins” to loosely tie their tricks together. While the theme may be weak, more importantly their relationship and magical skills are strong.

The tricks that they perform are largely takes on the classics—for example a rope sequence with an extra long rope, or a card finding trick with an extra spectacular reveal. Each one is adjusted to fit their style, but even more cleverly, they take great advantage of having the both of them onstage. They don’t just play off each others’ energy, they have created versions of effects that could not be performed with just one magician. This helps set them apart as a bit more than just twins together onstage, it gives a bit of a bite to their act—although there are also moments where each performer is able to shine as an individual.

While many magicians developed their tricks over the lockdown, Kane & Abel seem to have more noticeably improved their storytelling. The magic is great too, but what jumps out this year is how well their effects are integrated into the little stories that they tell. It’s an interesting, welcome development, and definitely piques interest in continuing to follow their careers. Twinpossible is a fun lunchtime interlude at the Voodoo Rooms—in the lovely ballroom, the prime PBH venue. Even on weekdays the timing is great for both tourists and nearby office workers, and they will surely all enjoy watching Kane and Abel. 

More information on Kane & Abel and their performance dates can be found here.

CASPAR THOMAS: SLEIGHT OF HANDKERCHIEF

☆☆☆

In popular culture the “witching hour” is a dramatic time of night, midnight or shortly thereafter.  At the Fringe, on the other hand, the “witching hour” evidentially occurs around three or four PM—consistently the busiest couple of hours for magic shows.  So Caspar Thomas has his work cut out for him in getting people in to Sleight of Handkerchief.  The theme, of course, is the handkerchief, that vibrant and ubiquitous magic prop. 

As is expected given the theme, it’s a relatively old fashioned magic show.  This is not to its detriment, it’s the show’s niche in the Fringe magic ecosystem.  Good Omens fans, picture if Aziraphale used his celestial powers in that children’s birthday party scene and you’ll get a decent idea of Thomas’s magic style.  The multicolored scarves make for a visually pleasing experience, and Thomas is adept at putting them through their paces.  His range of tricks include the usual handkerchief effects, as well as many that he has adapted to make use of these pretty props. 

In a cozy venue and with Thomas’s kind demeanor, joining him onstage feels less like joining a performance and more like helping a pal demonstrate his cool skills.  Nothing remotely scary or onerous is asked of the participants, Thomas does all the work in this chill show.  Many audience members are able to join in from their seats as well, such as when Thomas brings out his big rings.  He asks a few people to give them a bit of a tug but when the magic happens it’s entirely in his hands. 

The audience knows what they’re going to get with a show called Sleight of Handkerchief, and Thomas delivers it well.  The relaxed atmosphere is very different from the high energy of, for example, a standard comedy magic show, and this is a nice change of pace at the busy Fringe.  Magic fans could do a lot worse. 

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

PETE FIRMAN: BAG OF TRICKS

☆☆☆☆

Pete Firman has been working as a magician for an awfully long time.  His act has the pleasantly retro feel of grandma’s prized pyrex—perhaps at times it’s very obvious that it’s been around a while, but at the same time it’s aged so gracefully it’ll probably outlast us all.  In Bag of Tricks he operates under the fairly simple premise that it’s been a long lockdown and he has plenty of things he’d like to show an audience. 

Bag of Tricks is a bit of a misnomer, one of the first items that Firman brings out on stage is a large packing box, big enough to fit him like makeshift overalls as he stands inside it.  His relatable storytelling brings his tricks to life.  If a few of his jokes don’t quite land with every generation of the audience, he is quick to gloss over the moment and press on.  A highlight is when he leans in to his retro vibe in performing odd pointless parlor games that he perfected during lockdown.  It’s a nice break in the traditional magic while still showing off magic-adjacent skills of quickness and manual dexterity. 

Whether it’s due to his history of televised work or his preference for performing his show as half stand up comedy, half magic, Firman invites relatively few audience members to the stage.  With his larger than life performance, for much of the show he doesn’t really need the audience representative onstage to make the magic feel close to us.  However there does come a time when this is necessary, and he chooses well.  All of his participants at the reviewed show are great sports.  Firman generally treats them well in turn—when he gives one a hard time, immediately after he performs one of his prettier effects dedicated just to her. 

Firman’s act dovetails perfectly into current trends favoring upcycled found object maximalism, with his parlor game interludes and frenetic larger than life style.  It’s not at all surprising that he’s attracted a decent proportion of audience members who don’t understand some of his older references, magic aside the aesthetic alignment is there.  And his old fans certainly won’t be disappointed by Bag of Tricks.  Firman’s here for a good time and for a long time. 

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

THE MAGIC OF JIM

☆☆☆

They’ve let the resident Pleasance Courtyard magician indoors! Jim’s self-titled The Magic of Jim clocks in at just half the generally prescribed Fringe hour-long show. He runs through a few standard tricks, but what really stands out is Jim’s story of hustling his way in to the Fringe and enthusiasm for what he does. He’s still hustling, his name can be spotted as far afield as the cheeky “anti-Fringe” pop up along Leith Walk. Old habits die hard. Here at his home, the Pleasance, his series of tricks become a celebration of Fringe magic and and building the life you want through sheer tenacity.

Jim’s smaller size venue allows him to perform close up tricks to great effect. An early card finding trick gets a good slice of the audience involved, without singling anyone out too early on—participants are able to choose their card from their seat. The new indoor space and captive audience allows him space between tricks. Jim explores his philosophy of life through his Rubik’s cube, which he doesn’t even have to solve to impress his audience.

When it does come time to involve the audience more closely, Jim gets a good cross section of age range. His participants with larger roles are each rewarded for their efforts with a memento, an important factor to many magic attendees. A late afternoon show, at the show reviewed he attracted a crowd primarily of older folks and families with young children. It’s an enthusiastic audience, but as a veteran of the streets Jim doesn’t let any extraneous chatter deter him. Special kudos goes to the future mentalist in Jim’s audience, who managed to identify the reviewer for what she was as the crowd left the show. Based on his approximate age, the reviewer wouldn’t be surprised to find themselves reviewing him in about decade.

There are more elaborate magic shows at this Fringe, with more elaborate props, and certainly plenty that last a longer time. But Jim has his niche. If you’re in the area with a spare half hour before your next show his is the place to go to make the time pass quickly. You may be surprised by just how much you enjoy his work.

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

MAGICAL BONES: SOULFUL MAGIC

☆☆☆

In a way, Soulful Magic is the most classic magic show at the Fringe this year. If you’re looking for levitating ladies and exciting escapology this is the show for you. This is not the only factor that makes it feel unique. Magical Bones retains his status as the only break dancing magician performing at the Fringe, and the stories he tells, celebrating black culture through history and across the English speaking world, contextualize his act in both cultural heritage and modern representation.

Magical Bones is a whole circus in one man, and as far as this reviewer is concerned there is no higher compliment. He originally performed as a break dancer before getting in to magic, and luckily for his audience the break dancing is given equal billing in his show to this day. While this is not a dance review site, it is worth noting that the break dancing that Magical Bones performs would not look out of place in the break dancing/dance fusion shows at this year’s Fringe… except for the fact that at the same time he’ll find your card and solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s an exceptionally visually exciting form of magical reveal.

The magic itself is well done too. A highlight is a card finding routine set to a bespoke music track, it’s worth a ticket for that alone. The only slight mis-step came from a well-meaning audience participant misunderstanding her instructions and prompting an effect to be revealed a little bit early, but Magical Bones glossed over this with brisk professionalism. He is a charming performer and has a friendly rapport with all of the participants who join him onstage.

Through the celebration of black culture, fantastic magic, and incredible dancing, it is difficult to ignore a less fortunate magical stereotype that has crept in to the show. Building a show around breaking down barriers in magic while un-ironically introducing a female assistant to be levitated and magically dressed in a ballgown can feel little bit hypocritical. Women are hugely underrepresented in magic, and using the largely mute magician’s assistant role as just another trapping of a classic magic show can come across as regressive. 

Soulful Magic may feel like two steps forward, one step back in terms of diversity in magic, but it’s tough to be everything for everyone, and for its faults it’s still a fun show. It’s wonderful to see Magical Bones’s celebration of black magic so popular at this year’s Fringe, managing to sell out on one of the few warm, sunny weekend days in Edinburgh is no small feat. Blending street magic, classic stage magic, dance, and black culture makes for a show unlike anything else available.

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

CHRIS COOK: REFLECTIONS

☆☆☆☆☆

Chris Cook is a Free Fringe institution, now returned to his perennial late afternoon slot in the ballroom of the Voodoo Rooms, a PBH magic hub.  Like many of us, Cook has done some reflecting over the course of the pandemic.  Unlike most of us, he has transformed his ruminations in to a thoughtful and inspiring magic show, Reflections. 

For the repeat attendees in his audience the tricks and themes of Reflections may feel reminiscent of Cook’s past shows.  A few strong magical and emotional beats from 2017’s Control come through in particular.  Fans of Cook’s more meta work will also not be disappointed, as the show develops to touch on the unacknowledged energy that we share in in-person interaction through the lens of the relationship between a magician and their audience. 

The magic in Cook’s shows is always flawless.  A highlight of this year is a mentalist effect featuring a multicolored cube.  The first half of this is often performed in popular late-night mentalist acts, but here Cook adds a magic twist that keeps the audience on their toes.  The segment leading in to this, that began with a full audience participation, is a highlight as well.  This got several individuals fiercely competitive for the chance to join Cook onstage.  At the reviewed show Cook dealt with an unusually lively audience, but had little trouble maintaining control of the room. 

Cook’s brand of emotive magic is invariably an absolute delight.  His late afternoon shows are an invitation to consider your life, regardless of the title (“Reflections” of course openly encourages this), while watching some magic and listening to some stories.  If you’re open to it this will be a comfort—a sort of guided meditation with plenty of jokes and a sprinkling of magic.  Cook is gradually making the world a better place one audience at a time.  While he talks about how his audience can show their appreciation for his magic tricks, this is his biggest effect and it’s a shame that there’s no defined moment for him to appreciate it. 

It’s difficult to review Cook without sounding like a member of his cult, and perhaps it only makes it worse to say that if you attend his shows you’ll understand.  That being said?  This is definitely one to see.  His always are. 

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