AVA BEAUX: THE MYSTERIOUS TALES OF POE

☆☆☆☆

As the audience enters her venue, Ava Beaux appears to be incredibly sweet and welcoming, pulling over extra chairs to ensure that the sizable crowd who wish to see her show all manage to fit in the room. This is a comforting memory to cling to as The Mysterious Tales of Poe begins and Beaux’s eerie performance persona becomes increasingly unsettling.  Beaux holds the audience’s attention from the moment she silently starts cutting up a balloon string.  Her mesmerizing performance ensures that no one looks away even as the tricks get more macabre.
 

Nevertheless the audience feels a degree of safety, as all of Beaux’s creepiest effects and destructive impulses are focused on herself.  She is kinder to the participants who she calls upon to help throughout the show.  The magic itself is largely well performed.  If the odd prop is visible before it is meant to be the audience hardly notice or care as they are caught up in the flow of Beaux’s interpretations of Poe’s stories.
 

This is where Beaux truly excels, in the interweaving her storytelling with her magic.  Every trick supports the Poe stories that she narrates.  Likewise, each story is perfectly chosen as being suitable to be told through magic and further her theme, so the magic never feels forced.  The finale of her show is, however, entirely storytelling, and Beaux invites her audience to close their eyes to better appreciate Poe’s words, even at the expense of making her final reveal slightly anticlimactic.  Seeing the majority of the audience follow this advice is a testament to the degree of trust that Beaux manages to build in spite of the frightening nature of her performance.
 

The theatricality of The Mysterious Tales of Poe broadens its appeal; audience members certainly don’t have to be fans of magic to enjoy it.  On the other hand, those who are used to seeing magic performed as trick after trick with no unifying theme might gain a greater appreciation for the potential of magic when performed with Beaux’s creativity.
 

More information on Ava Beaux and her performance dates can be found here.

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

Good art thrives when it is communicating, is connecting. Good art thrives when it surpasses the individual and is made accessible to the collective. Although it may take some convincing to even get everyone to agree that magic is art, and can be good art, it cannot be debatable that Billy Reid’s show Watch Closely most certainly is. But what’s more, Watch Closely exceeds good art to become great, and exceeds thriving to absolutely bring magic to life in the eyes and, in some cases, hands, of those that get to witness it.

The title Watch Closely sounds at first like the issuing of a challenge. Watch closely, because the magician is here to trick you- will you be able to catch him? But that is not actually anything close to the sentiment of Reid’s show.  Reid does not present magic as a challenge to be beat. His performance is uncommonly personal, with almost all effects tying into the narrative Reid weaves about his family, his childhood, memories about both his upbringing and more recent experiences that stayed close to his heart.

Although the story that ties Reid’s magic together is so personal to him, that does not make it inaccessible to others. In fact, quite the opposite. Reid is able to cast a spell over his audience that brings them with him on every trick, every tale, every tone shift. At the performance reviewed, the room was full and the audience amiable and excited. Reid engaged well with this energy, bantering with his crowd and taking advantage of the boisterousness for the lighthearted effects. But when moments required a little more calm, a little more focus, Reid was even still able to lead all his spectators into the appropriate mentality, a much more impressive feat.

All his authentic charisma would be for naught without genuine talent, which luckily Reid has in spades (a heinous pun for which we do not apologise.) Reid’s takes on card tricks, his rendition of the oldest magic trick in the world, and really all tricks that are performed in Watch Closely are performed with, if not total technical perfection, so close as to be nearly indistinguishable from it. And Reid’s effects are performed with similarly spectacular beauty. Reid mentions a love for visual art in this show, and proves this by integrating art thematically into the tricks performed. Not only does he do an homage to a favourite artist, but one of his closing pieces features his own foray into drawing. The pictures created aren’t bad themselves, but what he does with them through magic is absolutely incredible.

Watch closely, Reid insists. Not just for this show, this hour, but through your own life. Not to catch a trick, but to catch a moment. To keep each memory as alive as the magic he creates.

 

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

EDWARD HILSUM: SILVER

☆☆☆☆

Many magicians start their shows by discussing their discovery of magic as a child, to prime their audience to experience a similar childlike sense of wonder. Perhaps it is Edward Hilsum’s youthful face that allows him to use this tactic so compellingly in Silver, or maybe he really is just something special.

Similarly, audience members at magic shows expect that they might be called upon to take part, but few are asked to do as much as Hilsum’s first participant. Rather than simply using this participant in her usual role as the “eyes of the audience”, Hilsum asks her to take a more active role in apparently performing the magic alongside him, making coins and eggs appear in her own hands. As it is of course really Hilsum doing all of the work, the experience is just as magical for his participant as it is for the rest of the audience.

The performance stumbles momentarily with an effect using an audience participant’s jacket that was perhaps poorly chosen. Hilsum seems to acknowledge this, explaining it away as a section that he came up with at the last minute to fill time. However, this is forgotten almost immediately as Hilsum performs a trick so seemingly impossible and unique that it has the audience members still debating it hours after the end of the show.

A recurring motif of the show is coins. Hilsum’s tale of childhood magic centers on a coin given to him by a magician, and he ends the show with a coin trick of his own—the titular “Silver”. The magic is great on it’s own, but Hilsum’s coin choreography in between making them disappear and reappear is equally impressive, as he is incredibly adept at flipping and manipulating his coins with just one hand.

It is at this point that the audience might realize one of the most unusual aspects of Hilsum’s performance. He managed to put together an entire magic show without any card tricks and without any integration of mentalism, and did not even make a fuss over this break with convention. Hilsum’s creativity serves to make his show even more impressive in hindsight, and Silver is a well worth watching magical experience.

 

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

 

COLIN CLOUD: SINFUL

☆☆☆☆

The undeniable truth of the Edinburgh Fringe is that if you want to be guaranteed to see some of the most entertaining magic around, you should probably be going to Colin Cloud’s show of the year. Cloud has been performing at the Fringe for several years, and always manages to outshine himself by bringing new and exciting ideas to his work.

In this year’s creation, Sinful, Cloud plays with the idea that even if we’d like to think we’re saints, we all have a little sinner in us. And he and fellow magician Chloe Crawford use their almost intimidating skill to read what you’ve shoved deep into the back of your mind, the truth of your mischief.

Cloud knows what he does well, and knows not to get rid of a good thing. The first portion of his show is classic Cloud, spot on mind reading that leaves his audience gasping in wonder at how it could possibly have been done, how even the “modern day Sherlock Holmes” could have been quite so astute. But Cloud is not out of surprises yet. He’s got a new twist- from reading your mind to leading your mind. Not to spoil the twist, but if you go to Sinful thinking you’re the height of innocence- it won’t last.

Also relatively new to him is working in partnership. Crawford and Cloud are not just peers but fiances, getting a head start on being one of the great married magician teams. Crawford seems a little rushed and nervous, but she needn’t be, her parts of the show are impeccably performed and her showmanship utterly compelling. It’s easy to see how these two magicians found themselves to be a match. Their styles are very similar in their wholehearted commitment to an aesthetic. They match their demeanors perfectly to the narrative at hand, without losing their well crafted personas. It is very interesting to see the way that Crawford and Cloud work as a team, and it would be great to see more of their onstage chemistry.

Sinful is an enticingly good show, full of everything the Fringe crowds have already decided they love about Colin Cloud, with a few new twists. And just when you think you’ve got Sinful figured out, Cloud and Crawford prove that the trick has been on you all along.

 

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

 

MAGICAL BONES: BLACK MAGIC

☆☆☆

There is only one hip hop dancing magician at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, but Magical Bones does not rest on the laurels of the uniqueness of this aspect. Rather, in Black Magic, he has created a show that is both fun and thought provoking, and skillfully performed throughout.

The term ‘Black Magic’ is not in reference to sinister sorcery, or folk magic that the west misappropriated and misconstrued. It is instead for his own position as a black magician. Bones gives honor to  his magician role models by performing tricks inspired by them at several parts of the show, and uses his platform to teach his audience about these underappreciated black magicians of the past.

But Bones is not just good in the shadow of others, he’s pure charm all on his own. Even when a trick or two may falter, the magician doesn’t, and his enchanting personality keeps everyone on board.

Bones not only incorporates his dancing skills into his act, but even a little audience education of it in individual tricks. He shares his personal journey into these combined passions through magical effects as many magicians do, but he has a very unique story to tell. Most compelling of all is a beautiful mix of a classic card effect and a song mash up that accompanies it perfectly.

You don’t have to like hip hop to watch Black Magic, but you may find that you do by the end. Magical Bones has created a fresh and surprisingly educational experience, and he never loses a beat.

 

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

JOHN ACCARDO: METHOD TO THE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Magic can be many things, based on everything from the taste of the performer to the perception of the spectator. Magic can be challenging, exciting, classic, smug, one or any or none of the above but something else. But in John Accardo’s Method to the Magic, above all else, magic is joy.

Accardo is a wellspring of effusive, infectious enthusiasm. It is abundantly apparent just how much passion he has for magic, and how much delight he takes in sharing it. This devotion transfers more and more strongly to his audience the longer he spends with them.

Method the the Magic is a very casual show. Accardo chats with his crowd as they come in, banters easily, and makes no attempt to restore order when certain moments of audience participation dissolve into farcical levels of confusion and self consciousness. Rather, he leans into it, letting every moment develop naturally. This cannot and should not be mistaken for lack of control. Accardo is a sharper and more skilful magician than he’s willing to let his audience think he is. The silliness inspires goodwill for him in his spectators, and thus Accardo has won the crowd.

Accardo uses classic magic effects very well integrated into his narrative for the show- explaining what it’s like to be a magician and (almost, sort of) what it’s like to do the tricks. He jumps from mind reading to card tricks and beyond with equal and impressive mastery, and every part is- there’s this word again- a joy – to watch.

This is John Accardo’s first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, but hopefully the first of many. Because it won’t be long before the crowds of Fringe goers discover that in a bunker plopped down in George Square is a hidden gem of the Fringe magic world.

More information on John Accardo can be found here.

MASON KING: SLEIGHT OF MIND

☆☆

Mason King’s Sleight of Mind is a primer on classic mentalism effects. A confident performer,  every piece of King’s show is delivered with the utmost technical perfection, from preparing the audience for what is to come to chaining together the different ways he would read their minds. Nothing in Sleight of Mind is uncomfortable, nothing is offensive. Over the course of the hour reviewed King received one single surprised gasp, a few chuckles, and polite applause for the majority of his tricks, most of them without having to overtly prompt the audience to do so.

But, I’m afraid to say, shows like this are exactly why some people don’t like magic shows. Magic isn’t off-putting when it’s actually bad, no, that makes it horrifically interesting. It’s off-putting when it is bland. Sleight of Mind really is just a primer- nothing more and nothing less than every trick in some fictional volume of mentalism standards, with a few general magic standards thrown in.  Everything from the tricks done to the words around them is like script from someone and everyone else’s book, even when King introduces himself: I was (enter number under 15) years old when I got into magic, here’s a line about my mentor, here’s how I’m going to read your mind.

Sleight of Mind has no narrative, no theme, no gimmick, no twist. King makes no real attempt at comedy and has no sense of comedic timing, nor does he afford the audience a sense of himself, or his personality, or make an effort to tie the humanity and stories of his audience members in. He gives us no reason to care, no reason to be invested, no reason to spend money to see his show. Sleight of Mind is a perfect first draft, a perfect skeleton, a perfect ‘what’ and ‘how’ to overlay with ‘why?’ Now all King needs is to find that missing piece, to find the ‘why’, or, if he knows it, to share it with his audiences. Because truthfully, that it the piece that matters the most.

 

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

LUKE JERMAY: STRANGE POWER

☆☆☆☆

Predicting the future is indeed a strange power. Who even, really, wants to know what comes next? Wouldn’t that take the fun out of it? But for those who have gotten to experience Luke Jermay, the fun of it is undeniable.

Strange Power is not a pretentious show, despite the teeming grandiose of Jermay. It is a thing exactly of itself- a man will come onstage, answer the deepest questions his audience members have of their futures and, sixty minutes later, leave. It is one single act done identically, but it is one single act done incredibly well.

Jermay is an exceptionally powerful performer. From the moment he steps onstage he radiates such a strong sense of presence- despite not saying a word for the first several minutes- that the audience is held in his thrall and wait in their own silent, excited anticipation, so as not to risk missing a word. When he does speak, Jermay is commanding and sharp, but not without genuine warmth. He is the portrait of a man who Knows What He Is Doing, and his onlookers cannot help but be desperate to know too.

Most importantly, Jermay is right, and not just right but exhaustively so. Jermay does not just get a read on each of his chosen audience members, but does so with compelling, intimate depth. Unlike some of his profession, he does not shy away from giving actual advice on the paths that can be taken. He does not fear overstepping- after all, we did ask. His decision to engage so thoroughly allows him to be invested into the futures he predicts, and allows the rest of the audience to be as well. Jermay makes the lives of random strangers who happened to go to the same Fringe show as you as interesting as your own.

Luke Jermay does have a strange power, and few could predict the future as well as he. But one prediction can be made with total confidence by anyone who sees his show: Luke Jermay is only going to build on his already prodigious strengths, and be a household name before long.

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

ASHTON CARTER: MYSTERIOSA

In Ashton Carter’s Mysteriosa, he explores the stories of his family history through a series of illusions, both revisiting the mysteries of his ancestors lives and toying with the concept of reaching out to them, through Spiritualist practices, after their deaths.

The beginning of the Fringe can be a stressful time for performers. The material is often untested, the audiences unknown. For a magician, there comes an even more challenging twist to this anxiety: their audience is anxious too. Though you cannot go to a magic show and not expect the looming threat of having to participate, you do not know what form this participation will take. The audience depends on their magician to win- not quite their trust, but their support,  from the beginning moments, or else what’s left is difficult to salvage. Ashton Carter begins, and continues his show, visibly terrified by the situation at hand. His hands shake, his voice shakes, he gets tongue tied, and is seemingly at a loss for what to do from one moment to the next. This creates a sense of unease immediately that does not go away for the rest of the show.

The audience’s wariness of course is also reflected in a disinclination to interact. No one is inspired to want to take part, and those who ultimately do at Carter’s urging do so begrudgingly.  The only common feeling in the crowd is not captivation with the performer, but empathy for one’s fellow onlooker. At the performance reviewed, the show is stolen by a single crack by one audience member.  An entire Fringe show, and the sole highlight is a nervous joke by someone else who is also (maybe) paying to be there.

It perhaps goes without saying at this point, but the material itself is not strong. The illusions are tired, the story is tedious, and the climax cloying and out of place. Finally, there comes a baffling conclusion. Through most of Carter’s show, he has achieved a ineptitude that could and should, for the most part, be pitiable. However, he crowns the whole thing off by concept-dropping Christianity, both in a way where it cannot be argued that that is not what he meant, but where he was too cowardly to actually say ‘Jesus’ in a magic show. Because yes, if you start talking about Jesus in a magic show, 90% of the time unbelievers will be uncomfortable and believers will be offended. And taking into account Carter’s decision to use a deck of cards with an ethnic slur on them earlier in the show, Mysteriosa blows past ‘pitiable’ for a strong finish in ‘dreadful’.

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

MANDY MUDEN: IS NOT THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

☆☆

With her bold style and even bolder personality, Mandy Muden is anything but invisible.  Muden’s premise for “Is not the Invisible Woman” is that women “of a certain age” are overlooked often enough to feel invisible, and she has set out to prove that she, at least, still commands attention.

However, Muden is let down by her magic, which is often basic and clumsy.  Her tricks are at their best when she incorporates them into her overall performance, as this marginally raises the audience’s emotional investment.  A section illustrating a romantic relationship ending poorly using several bits of string shifts Muden’s performance to an unexpectedly melancholic tone, despite the maintenance of her playful character, but is a highlight in how she uses magic.

Perhaps ironically, Muden’s many jokes about and references to being a woman “of a certain age” get old fast, especially as they start to sound repetitive.  It is possible that viewers who feel like they fit in to the category that she describes would appreciate this element of her show a bit more, and that she intentionally caters to this audience.  She is at least consistent in maintaining her theme.

Muden develops a patchy relationship with her audience, teasing her participants  slightly more than necessary, even when the participant in question was visibly uncomfortable. She was lucky in that the majority of her participants responded well to this approach.  Her repeated instructions to get her male participants to weigh themselves to contribute numbers for part of her final reveal could be construed as commentary on social pressures on women’s bodies.  However, it is left to the audience to decide whether her method of making this point is too neglectful of the similar pressures on men’s bodies that may be relevant in the lives of her participants.

Muden has a solid goal in her show in demonstrating to the audience and perhaps also to herself that she is not limited by her age and gender.  Her execution may have a more niche appeal.  Nevertheless she certainly succeeds in her aim—in fact, it is difficult to imagine Muden ever being overlooked.

 

More information on Mandy Muden and her performance dates can be found here.