BEN DALI: TRANCE OF A LIFETIME

One thing is clear from the title of Ben Dali’s show, Trance of a Lifetime: his amazing commitment to terrible puns.  He has, in fact, had three years of Fringe hypnotism shows with similarly pun-based titles, which he lists at the start of this show.  All of them are equally fantastic.  The actual content of his show provokes more mixed reactions.

Unlike many hypnotist shows that ease the audience into things with some mind reading, Dali heads straight into the hypnotism.  He also limits his hypnotic participants to volunteers who choose to step on to the stage at the start of the show, rather than attempting to hypnotize the entire audience.  This is a great way to ensure that his participants are fully willing—although arguably even if he had gone for the whole audience approach he would still only get willing participants, as the unwilling would fight the trance state.  It did leave him open to unsuccessfully hypnotized participants playing along for fun, and indeed several such individuals left the stage at various points in the show.

It is perhaps unimportant that several participants played along in the show for a while as Dali’s methods for demonstrating his hypnotic influence are entirely based on getting his participants to put on a spectacle for the remainder of his audience.  This often involves getting them to perform actions that are presumably so embarrassing that they would be unwilling to go through with them if not for the hypnosis.  It does at times, however, almost feel like a caricature of hypnotism at its creepiest and most manipulative.

To his credit, Dali is careful to ensure that his hypnotism is only extended to the consenting adults who have chosen to step on to his stage.  At the reviewed performance, two young girls were mimicking the participants as they entered the trance state.  Dali took the time to check on them and establish that they had definitely not fallen under his sway.

Dali’s comedic hypnotism is a specific style that, if his crowds on a Tuesday evening are anything to go by, is very popular.  He is certainly good at what he does.  It is likely that those who attend his show in the hopes of being hypnotized, or gawking at those who have been, will not be disappointed.

 

Ben Dali can be found at Liquid Rooms Annexe (Venue 276) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 22:00 from August 23-26

More information on Ben Dali and his performance dates can be found here

CHARLIE CAPER – ARTIFICE INTELLIGENCE

Charlie Caper calls himself a magician, but Artifice Intelligence is less of a magic show and more an excuse for Caper to demonstrate a variety of robots and other machines that he has clearly spent a lot of time building.  It is easy to see why, as they are incredible.  Artifice Intelligence loses nothing from this focus, as Caper creates a compelling storyline out of his creations.

The magic that Caper does perform often makes use of the robots. It does, at times, almost become a commentary on that stale magical trope of the beautiful assistant, and her relationship with the magician who she assists.  The robots steal the show.  A particular highlight is the butter robot, which conveys an astonishing breadth of emotion for what appears to be one of the more simple of Caper’s machines.

When Caper attempts more traditional magic tricks they do at times go awry.  Cards and bottles might appear out of turn, and, at the performance reviewed, cups of liquid that were being used as props spilled all over the floor and Caper’s clothing.  This is written in an ambiguous fashion because Caper performed through these potential mishaps so impeccably that it is difficult to know whether they were genuine mistakes or calculated aspects of his performance, designed to appear to go wrong for effect.  If they were honest mistakes it is perhaps even more impressive that Caper managed to play them off so efficiently.

The plot that Caper weaves through Artifice Intelligence is present enough to create dramatic tension, but not so prioritized that it dominates the show.  Its foreshadowing and ultimately darkly satisfying conclusion bind the show together.  It is charming that after the story has run its course, Caper takes advantage of his stage to deliver a message of hope about the future of technology in society.  This does not come across as part of his act, but as genuine social commentary from a man who has evidently spent a large portion of his life fascinated by machines.

Artifice Intelligence blurs the boundary of what can be decidedly defined as magic.  It also defies age boundaries, as it is both child friendly and engaging for all age ranges.  What Caper has done is use both the magic of magicians and the “magic” of technology to build an unambiguously exceptional show.

 

Charlie Caper can be found at Liquid Rooms Annexe (Venue 276) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 16:05 from August 21, 23-26

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

DREAMER BY SAM FITTON

☆☆

The opening animation sets the tone perfectly for Sam Fitton’s Dreamer—good, silly fun, like a perfectly planned magical dream.  While Fitton is a personable performer and Dreamer is notable for its creativity, there is room for improvement in its execution.

If there is a theme to Dreamer, it is Fitton’s wacky magical perception of everyday life.  This is epitomized in his opening sequence, which features Fitton struggling through his morning routine as the implements of his daily life transform into illusions.  His use of real-life props in his tricks integrates them into the vignette.  The tricks are often common, but Fitton has put them together into a charming storyline.

Fitton’s friendly stage presence is felt at every turn.  As is common in magic shows, Dreamer requires audience participation, but in one section Fitton plays with this standard by involving the entire audience, firing props into the crowd and teaching everyone a simple magic trick.  I, for one, was surprised by how amused I was with this, and found myself repeating the trick over and over for my own entertainment for the rest of the day.  It was a lovely reminder of the joyful wonder that Fitton radiates with every movement.

Not every audience member is so lucky, and in another section Fitton pulls someone from the crowd and throws them into his script with no warning.  It is perhaps inarguably true that all members of the audience at a magic show must be prepared to be called upon to assist the magician, but it is equally the duty of the magician to make those called upon feel safe in their temporary spotlight.  Fortunately on that afternoon the participant for this section appeared unfazed.  However, the rest of the audience may have felt justifiably wary of helping Fitton for the rest of the show.

This issue was confined to a single section of Dreamer, but general issues with Fitton’s execution of his tricks were less constrained.  There are moments when the audience catches glimpses of the mechanics behind Fitton’s magic, which is, on occasion, a little bit distracting from the overall performance.

These performance problems aside, Dreamer is delightful.  Its whimsical framework for Fitton’s magic tricks is consistently inventive and engaging.  Fitton is promisingly creative and reliably fun to watch.

 

Sam Fitton can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:25 from August 21-25

More information on Sam Fitton and his performance dates can be found here

LUKE CLOSELY: A MUSICIAN DOING MAGIC!

☆☆

It’s challenging to stand out from the hoard of Edinburgh Fringe magicians, but Luke Closely has found an interesting way, and it’s not just his preciously punnish name. (Luke Closely? Like Look Closely? Get it? Don’t worry, he’ll make sure you do.) The twist, rather, is that Closely is the Fringe’s one and only musical magician. The combination of these two talents makes A Musician Doing Magic! a unique and intriguing experience.

Fingers Piano Bar is, quite obviously by it’s name, and apt venue for the musical side of this show. Less so apt for magic, with pillars and tucked in booths, but Closely does well working with the particularities of his venue, instructing his audience of where to avoid sitting and making sure to elevate anything he was working with sufficiently. He also demonstrates admirably his musical talent, especially his keyboard skills. Closely overtly has a deep and ebullient passion for music, and his naked enthusiasm is inspiring and makes his show all the better.

Unfortunately, Closely seems to struggle with some of the magic side of his show, at least during the performance reviewed. The integration of the two talents is thoughtfully done, including a mind reading trick involving audience member’s favourite bands, and a trick involving his own (attempting to) play an instrument. But Closely flubs through his tricks a few times, and isn’t able to cover the mistakes up. To his credit, the mistakes never make him falter, and he is able to at least brush them off and move on with the performance without drawing attention to the problems. His confidence here is impressive and turns moments where his show could have gone off track into an opportunity to get the empathy of his audience.

A Musician Doing Magic! is a show with a great concept and an genial performer, and has definite potential to be a solidly entertaining production. There’s no better time that the Edinburgh Fringe to work through material with largely supportive audiences, and with a little more practice, Luke Closely definitely has a fantastic show in the making.

 

Luke Closely can be found at Fingers Piano Bar (Venue 221) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:10 from August 21-26

More information on Luke Closely and his performance dates can be found here

I CAN READ YOUR MIND

Tomas McCabe has helpfully gone down the descriptive route in naming his Fringe show.  As his audiences descend into his basement venue, they definitely all know what to expect from McCabe in I Can Read Your Mind.  The large venue fills close to capacity, but McCabe’s warm and friendly stage presence draws in even those seated at the very back.

McCabe opens his show with a demonstration of his mind reading abilities, perfectly predicting the choices of his chosen audience member.  This allows him to quickly transition into a more practical application of mind reading, how to detect liars.  McCabe frames this as a lesson for the audience, pointing out what he is looking for as he detects successive participants’ attempted deceptions.  This lesson even comes with a test, as McCabe takes an audience poll to discover the final liar, adding a fun level of mass interaction to the show.

Another segment of the show features hypnotism, which McCabe introduces by asking all audience members who were open to being hypnotized to stand up so that he can do his best to put them in a trance.  It is comforting that he is open with his intentions and gives his audience the chance to abstain from this section, as surprise hypnotism can be alarming.  McCabe is respectful of the audience members who he does successfully hypnotize, including the one who he chooses to join him on stage to exhibit the depth of her trance.  However, McCabe’s hypnotic demonstrations are really just more mind reading.  This is not necessarily a criticism of his show, he is upfront about his specialty in its name, but it does make the hypnotism itself seem unnecessary.

I Can Read Your Mind is performed in a sizable, echoing venue, so at the performance reviewed, the audience was understandably noticeably concerned when McCabe’s microphone started cutting in and out.  McCabe dealt with this incredibly effectively, making jokes about the technical issues and ensuring that the entire audience could still hear what he was saying.  Luckily for the audience, McCabe was able to work through this complication and, when necessary, project his voice all the way to the back of the room.

I Can Read Your Mind is a worthy mind reading show, and is deservedly popular, as it manages to fill such a large venue.  McCabe’s lovely enthusiasm for getting the audience involved in every step of his mentalist tricks charms his audience and makes for an excellent and entertaining event.

 

I Can Read Your Mind can be found at Liquid Room Annexe (Venue 276) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 21:05 from August 20-26

More information on Tomas McCabe and his performance dates can be found here

CHRIS DUGDALE: UP CLOSE!

Chris Dugdale is pure Las Vegas cheesiness, and if you don’t like that you won’t like this show. But even if you don’t, you have to admit, he’s the best at it around. Up Close is perfectly on-brand Dugdale, loud and smarmy and yet undeniably entertaining.

Dugdale is the definition of polished and slick. Not a second of the show lags, not a single thing a volunteer says throws him off, and every single joke get uproarious laughter and applause. One almost expects magicians of his brand of theatrical to go for some laughs at their volunteers’ expense, but he is absolutely professional and utterly respectful. Dugdale only ever laughs with his volunteers, and showers them with compliments to offset the unease of being onstage in front of so many people. Having been brought onstage myself, I can attest that he absolutely should be commended for this deference.

Up Close is not a show of terribly original magic; it’s not even new to him, which will be very apparent if you’ve seen him at the Fringe before. But his experience with the material means that it is flawlessly executed. And despite this repetition, none of the content ever comes across as stale, with Dugdale pouring his ample enthusiasm into every word and gesture.

Chris Dugdale’s Up Close is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the best at being ridiculous you’ll find. For an hour of fun and funny entertainment, expert showmanship, and masterly magic, Up Close is a solid pick.

 

Chris Dugdale can be found at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:10 from August 18-26

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

BEN HART: THE NUTSHELL

☆☆

The room already radiates an air of enigma as you walk in, and this is just your basic Fringe venue. What is it about Ben Hart that infuses mysteriousness into any room in which he walks?  That question may never be answered, and maybe that’s for the best. What can be known, however, is that Ben Hart’s The Nutshell is an elegant, stylistic experience in truly beautiful magic.

The Nutshell feels, in a nutshell (sorry), like a desperate and intense attempt of a magician at piercing the true nature of his art and its’ limits. A journey in magical madness, even, but one so artfully explored that it pulls every onlooker in, captivated from start to finish. From changing the course of fate to nature to murder, Hart somehow connects an array of topics into a enthralling rhythm.

Hart is an understated performer, gentle in word and movement, which makes his magic feel all the more astonishing when it happens- you’ve been lulled into a pleasant reverie by his stories when you’re caught off guard by the reveal of the illusion he’s slipped past you. Hart is masterful at maintaining a sense of delicious tension, never letting the mood break even when he has to instruct audience volunteers. He weaves his way through the slipperiest of sleight of hand, and appears as watchful of his audience as we are of him, a small smirk as if wondering how far he can trick us into suspending our disbelief.

Ben Hart is an exceptionally skillful magician and a bewitching performer. You won’t leave The Nutshell completely understanding what you just saw- or even what you were meant to see- but you won’t be able to stop wondering about it.

 

Ben Hart can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:15 from August 18-27

More information on Ben Hart and his performance dates can be found here