Aaron Calvert


Aaron Calvert has chosen a timely theme for his new Fringe show, Declassified. As Calvert explains in his opening remarks, on his inauguration, Trump declassified vast archives of information about some of the United States’s quirkier Cold War era research projects. Calvert’s jokes at Trump’s expense ensure that his audience knows that he is on the right side of history. The rest of the show is framed as an exploration into these declassified archives.

An early segment of Declassified features a classic mind reading trick using several cards with a range of simple shapes. This fits neatly into the Cold War theme. The story often told alongside these props is that they were used by the CIA to study subjects’ mind reading capabilities during the Cold War, and that when the Cold War ended and these research projects were disbanded several subjects used the same cards to demonstrate their skills in magic shows. Calvert puts his own stamp on this classic by adding a hypnotist twist.

Calvert soon shifts into the more hypnotism-centric part of the show, attempting to put the entire audience into a hypnotic state in order to find the best participants for the evening. The process is pleasantly relaxing, even for those who do not reach a full hypnotic trance. A selected few of those who do make it to that state are brought onstage to demonstrate the depth of their hypnosis. Unlike the seedy hypnotist stereotype, Calvert is respectful and empathetic toward those who he has successfully hypnotized.

Here Calvert shifts from his stated theme of the recently declassified files that he discusses at the start of his show, and spends more time relating his demonstrations to modern urban legends. Cold War enthusiasts may be disappointed. However, Calvert’s interpretation of this theme is ultimately uplifting. Rather than re-create the experiments of the Cold War era, Declassified is a new experiment designed to demonstrate the same theory, that individuals are capable of extraordinary feats.

If there is a criticism to be leveled at Declassified it is precisely that, its title. The titular declassified documents feel underused, as they are hardly mentioned beyond the opening political quips. The link between the Cold War theme and the later segments of the show is muddled with Calvert’s increasing reliance on modern urban legends to bring thematic structure to his demonstrations. Declassified would perhaps be better described by a title that evokes urban legends in general rather than one evocative of such a specific aspect of history.

Declassified succeeds as an impressive display of hypnosis, and is enhanced by Calvert’s optimistic attitude toward his audience. Calvert’s style of hypnotism comes across as benevolent rather than manipulative, as he proves his power over his hypnotized participants by compelling them to perform exceptional stunts rather than pointlessly embarrassing actions, while still putting on an entertaining show for his audience. Calvert’s refreshing take on hypnosis makes Declassified well worth the visit.


Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26

More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here


Aaron Calvert sat down with us after his show Declassified to talk a little about hypnotic suggestibility, his television show, and the pressures of performing at the Fringe.

Hannah: What got you into hypnosis?  What made you decide this is what you want to dedicate your life to?

Aaron: I got into hypnosis at 15, I saw a hypnotist onstage and around the same time I saw Derren Brown. I was interested in magic and being onstage and performing, so I started to read up on it, started to research it, try and practice it.  Then, I worked in America when I was 18, at a summer camp. They knew I was interested in this area and said “Hey, why don’t you put on a show for us?” I was hesitant, I was like, “…..ohh, okay…? Sure?” but I did and 35 people showed up and it was an amazing show and just worked. Then I went to med school, and I did hypnotherapy on the side, it was part of my medical degree, and I was kinda left with two choices at that point- either I could go full time into medicine or I could go full time into entertainment. And I couldn’t do both, because, if a patient walks in at 5 o’clock when you have a show at seven, it doesn’t really work out. So I just had to go with my heart, and hypnosis and performing in general are where my heart laid, so that’s exactly what I went for.  

So does the medical side of hypnosis interest you, or just the entertainment aspects?

It does interest me. I combine the techniques I learned from hypnotherapy and the techniques I’ve developed onstage for myself, to make the approach I have. I think that’s…it’s not revolutionary, but it’s different that what most hypnotists do, either they’re very much stage entertainment or they’re very much hypnotherapy. Whereas I combine both of those and because of that I get a really good response to the hypnosis. As you saw tonight, there were a lot of the people in the audience I could have chosen and I got fantastic suggestions on stage because of that.

Can you talk about hypnotic susceptibility? Some people say no one can be hypnotized if they don’t want to, and others say everyone can be hypnotized?

Sure, well I think they’re two sides of the same coin basically. You’ve got some people who say you can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be, and that’s absolutely true. And the other side of it is that everyone can be hypnotized. And yes, everyone can be, but if you don’t want to be you won’t be. Some people are amazing subjects, and like in my Channel 4 show, we had to go out of our way to find incredible subjects who were highly suggestible that would work and would be able to let me erase their memory each time. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people who are just open to some suggestion, and we might not ever be able to do something like erase their memories but they may well experience something like their foot being stuck to the floor, and that’s it. So you’ve got a spectrum of suggestibility. There is a moment when you’re being hypnotized by someone when you choose to go with them. If you go with it, it’s an incredible experience. But some people resist it and it doesn’t work.

What’s your opinion on the suggestion that most participants at a stage show aren’t actually hypnotized in the strictest sense, but playing along because they’re onstage? Do you think it matters?

I think it matters a lot for my show. I don’t necessarily think it matters a lot for comedy shows, where by someone wants to get onstage and might happily follow the instructions to dance with a mop or whatever that suggestion may be. In my show I invite the whole audience to participate, I go out to the audience, and I purposefully test them. They don’t know what I’m looking for, so I can tell when someone might be faking, and I test them to make sure I get the most suggestible people onstage. Because the things I ask people to do, they wouldn’t be able to do properly if they were faking. And it’s so important. Each of the participants, every one of them, does something incredible. And if any one of them was faking it, it wouldn’t work, and it would be very obvious, and it would become very awkward. That to me- I’d hate to have that be the case in my show.

What’s the most stressful thing about performing?

You know, I get asked this a lot, and I don’t tend to get nervous before a show until I am side stage and I hear the video intro play, and suddenly I’m like “Oh my god, why do I do this to myself.” But the moment I step onstage the nerves are gone, the moment I open my mouth, on that stage, there are no nerves, I’m just having fun. When it comes to fears for performing, the first week of the Fringe is what terrifies me. I don’t get nervous before doing a corporate event or even a stage show in Manchester or anywhere else, but coming to Fringe, I know there’s so much to do. Fringe audiences are tough. They won’t let you get away with it if you’re rubbish, and so the first week of the Fringe is probably my most scary time of the year, and then I settle into it and I just enjoy the rest of the run.

What’s the most exciting?

It’s got to be sharing an experience with people. I want people to leave my show having had an experience that they will take away and talk about with their friends and their family. I don’t really care if they remember my name, but as long as they were in some way moved or left with something to think about and talk about from the show, that’s my job done, that’s great, that’s entertainment. It’s not about ego, it’s not about me, it’s about the audience experience. And if the audience are having the best time, the most exciting thing for me is seeing that response.

And now you have a TV show, Hello Stranger. What was your inspiration there?

That tv show came about through the production company that had an idea that was based on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where two people have their memories erased. And they approached me with basically, ‘was it possible to erase one’s memory’ and I was like, yes, depending on how long and what for. And so we started to develop this idea and eventually came up that we wanted to have a couple and we wanted to have them erase their memories of each other and then go on a date. So the inspiration come from two points, one, the film, and two, the idea of giving a couple the chance to meet for the first time again. And getting them to meet each other, that’s what it’s about. It wasn’t about sending them on a date or getting them to break up, it was about getting a couple to meet and fall in love all over again.

Did it turn out the way you expected?

Yes. It did and it didn’t. I loved working on the show. What was brilliant was stuff that happened off camera that reaffirmed for me that everything that was happening in this experiment was genuine. The thing I didn’t like was that a lot of people called fakery on it. Which is natural with a hypnosis show and I think it was because we didn’t quite display all of the moments of genuine interactions we had that happened off camera. I’m very happy with the program, I’m happy that it’s out, I’m happy that everyone got to see it. But I think it taught me we need to help people understand hypnosis more, help people understand what’s going on.

So what do you think you enjoy more, live performance or television?

I enjoy both for very different reasons. I enjoy the live because you’re instantly getting feedback from the audience. So I know, if the audience don’t like something or don’t react to something at one point in this show, I can change it up again, that the audience can leave having the best show. And it’s great that when you see it live, you can’t call bullshit, because what is happening is happening to you, or is happening to your friend. That’s what makes television difficult, because they’re not there and can just say ‘oh they’re just stooges’. But what I love about television is that you can do things that take three days, or two years of planning, and bring it out, and put it on for such a wide audience. So I enjoy television because it allows us to do much bigger things, and I enjoy the live shows because you get to interact with people.

There are hundreds of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In one sentence, tell our readers why Declassified is a must see.

If you want the opportunity to be involved, and see people demonstrate inexplicable feats live onstage, come to Declassified.


Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26

More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here



The PBH’s Best of Magic show, hosted by Chris Cook, featured a different lineup of magicians at each of its three performances.  This review is of the third and final performance, and it was a fitting finale to a Fringe full of incredible magic.

Cook was the perfect choice to host this show.  His love for magic shone through each and every one of the glowing introductions that he gave his fellow magicians.  After watching him juggle getting the crowd excited for each act, helping out in various ways throughout the performances, and performing his own magic tricks when the occasion called for it, it is easy to see why Cook has found success in the hectic realm of performing at private parties.  His unflappable cheeriness at every juncture held the show together.

The show kicked off with Aaron Calvert, a mind reading magician whose main show culminates in hypnosis.  Here, with less time, he focuses on the mind reading, using an audience member to choose numbers on a die for him to figure out.  Calvert’s commanding presence kept the audience mesmerized by his feats.

Next up was the delightfully creepy Ava Beaux.  Her Edgar Allan Poe themed show was reviewed here on one of her first performances, and she has only improved over the course of her time at the Fringe—she certainly had plenty of performances in which to do so, as she proved to be so popular that she had to run her show twice a day to satisfy her fans.  Beaux’s performance persona had consistently been one of her strong points, and even that had developed further; she was fully committed to her darkly comic character.  Beaux is reminiscent (if she would permit a more modern comparison than Poe) of Lemony Snicket, of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” fame.  Her magic tricks were appreciably neat and polished, and she kept up the flow of her act to seamlessly incorporate her illusions.

Following Beaux came a properly comic interval, featuring Tom Crosbie.  Crosbie’s main show included a variety of mathematical and Rubik’s cube based comedy.  Here he focused on the Rubik’s cubes, showing off his quick solves, and tricks like solving the Rubik’s cube while it was in midair.  While Crosbie does not do what one would consider a quintessentially magic centered act, his set was entertaining and provided an interesting change of pace.

David Narayan came next, with his own take on mentalism. He also brought along a taste of the magical history lesson that featured so prominently in his main show, The Psychic Project.  Also similarly to his main show, he kept a twist for the end—which, in this case, featured an unusually exciting wardrobe change.  Narayan’s performances at this Fringe have been heavily informed by history, but it is such characteristic personal flourishes that truly set him apart.

The show wrapped up with a final set by Dave Alnwick, another magician who has proved incredibly popular this year.  His wallet-based trick, featuring multiplying yellow fluffy balls, was a fun and playful way to end the show.  Like in all of Alnwick’s performances, his charismatic personality kept the audience engaged regardless of what he was doing on stage.  As Alnwick is also an amazingly skilled magician, the audience was captivated.

This performance of the Best of Magic show featured a wonderfully skilled lineup and stellar performances from every entertainer.  Each one of these performers are exceptional in their own right, and watching them perform on the same stage was a delight.



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.


More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here