Edinburgh Fringe

ROBERT TEMPLE: THE HYPNOTIST

☆☆☆☆

Hypnotists have been noticeable primarily by their absence this Fringe.  As a genre even more dependent on touching strangers than other performers, it is understandable that many may not have felt comfortable doing shows, or confident that they could get willing participants.  Robert Temple is the exception willing to take the gamble.  In the simply titled ‘The Hypnotist’, he talks us through some of the theory behind hypnosis and, of course, gives everyone in the audience the opportunity to try out being hypnotised themselves.

Like many hypnotists, Temple devotes time in the first part of his show to discussing hypnotism in theory before demonstrating it in practice.  He describes himself as a comedy hypnotist, and this is where the majority of the comedy comes in.  Future audiences may be comforted to note that he makes fun of himself far more than any of his participants, and that if he does poke fun at his audience it will be during this first part of the show, when everyone is fully awake.

Perhaps in a bid to flatter the audience on to his stage, Temple describes hypnosis as a function of creativity.  This appears to work well for him.  At the reviewed show he was working with a relatively small audience, as many performers are at this pandemic Fringe.  Given the nature of his act he made sure to warn the audience ahead of time that volunteering to take part would require some physical touch.  Nevertheless he easily filled his ten spots on stage with eager participants looking to be hypnotised.  Once they were hypnotised, the demonstrations he encourages from them tended toward silliness rather than any kind of public embarrassment.

As is always the risk, perhaps especially in a discipline such as hypnosis, something did go wrong.  In this case, one of the participants ‘woke up’ from his hypnotised state unexpectedly early, having a knock-on effect on the others on stage.  Temple dealt with this with the apparent ease of a practiced professional, calmly switching a few things around, and of course looking after his participants to smooth their exit from his show.

For those looking to be hypnotised this Fringe, Temple may be the only option.  Luckily he’s a great option.  His style of hypnosis appears to be reasonably effective on a range of individuals.  All go in with the confidence that they will feel safe on his stage, and by the time they leave they can feel confident that their trust in him was justified.

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

ANDREW MCKINLAY: PERSPECTIVE

☆☆☆

The titular theme of Perspective is mentioned briefly in Andrew McKinlay’s show, but not really well explored.  This appears to be intentional and probably for the best.  At the reviewed show he certainly didn’t get much of the kind of audience who would be willing to follow along with a big theme.  There are hints of a more thoughtful kind of show that McKinlay might have put together for a different time slot, that would definitely be of interest to see at a future Fringe. 

There will always be increasing numbers of drunk people at Fringe shows as the night goes on.  In Perspective Andrew McKinlay appears to have embraced his fate, as one of the later slots at a venue with a great drinks menu, of having to deal with high numbers of drunk people in his audience.  This is what is showcased of his skill set.  And the magic is nice too, it’s a solid foundation for McKinlay to use to corral the drinkers into a reluctant audience willing to cooperate with his show. 

McKinlay uses a variety of sleight of hand and mentalist tricks throughout the set.  These are performed well enough, certainly for the composition of the audience.  The crowd was especially fond of an effect early in the show, in which McKinlay invites a range of participants on to the stage to draw a face, after which he attempts to match the drawing to the individual who drew it.  It is perhaps indicative of the evening that the participants’ antics drew more of a reaction from the audience than McKinlay’s successful completion of the effect. 

As will be evident from the preceding paragraphs of this review, McKinlay faced a challenging audience at the reviewed show – weirdly drunk for a Tuesday evening and entirely unafraid to heckle frequently.  McKinlay handled them like the professional that he is.  It was actually difficult to gauge how disruptive the audience was while sitting in the show, as McKinley was so adept at responding to them and redirecting the audience’s attention that the progress of the show flowed smoothly around the many interruptions.  It is in hindsight that it is clear how hard he was working to make his show look so effortless. 

Perspective may not change the audience’s perspective of much.  But McKinlay knows what he’s dealing with and delivers a solid magic show, to amaze even the most drunk of Fringe-goers regardless of whether they want to be amazed or not. 

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

DAVE ALNWICK: EXCEPTIONAL MAGIC & SUPER CHILL MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

At an Edinburgh Fringe where many familiar magicians are absent or performing limited runs, Dave Alnwick is back for full Fringe long of three to five shows a day.  By numbers alone, he accounts for exactly one third of the magic listings on the PBH Free Fringe website this year.  His two daytime shows, Super Chill Magic and Exceptional Magic, are intentionally very similar to accommodate his many fans, which is why they are both best addressed in this one review. 

The household name status that Alnwick has achieved at the Fringe makes the audience experience at his shows extra special.  People who manage to secure spots at the fronts of his queues have the camaraderie of successful pilgrims, holding spots in the queue for strangers who have urgent errands and exchanging phone numbers so those who remain can immediately update the errand-runner if anything changes.  The hype might sound excessive but as soon as the show starts, Alnwick proves that he’s earned it. 

Both Super Chill and Exceptional Magic have a bit of sleight of hand but rely more heavily on mentalism, Alnwick’s specialty.  Everything is performed flawlessly, as his audiences have learned they can expect.  A card trick that he performs with two audience participants in each show is a particular highlight, with Alnwick leaving his deck of cards in the participants’ hands for the majority of the effect.  In the talent-scouting portion of the reviewed Super Chill Magic, Alnwick found an excellent participant who briefly stole the show, and would not be out of place on his own stage, perhaps at next year’s Fringe.  Choosing participants who will best enhance the show is a skill in itself, and one that Alnwick has clearly mastered over his long career. 

Super Chill and Exceptional Magic are well timed to accommodate Alnwick’s variety of fans.  Super Chill Magic is in the early afternoon, earlier than most shows, for the Fringe tourists to kick off a busy day of show-hopping.  Exceptional Magic, on the other hand, is just about late enough for locals to pop in after a day in the office, and to catch those unwilling to get out of bed in time for Super Chill Magic.  Both Alnwick and this reviewer agree that attendance at both is not necessary for any but the most devout of his followers.  Either one is sufficient to re-cement the legend of Alnwick in the Fringe collective consciousness for another year. 

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

CHRIS CROSS: A PANDEMONIUM OF PARLOUR TRICKS IN A PANDEMIC

☆☆☆☆☆

For those of us who haven’t heard of or seen him before, it is too easy to underestimate Chris Cross.  From the wacky name and monogrammed belt buckle, the aggressively arranged alliteration of his 2021 show title A Pandemonium of Parlour Magic in a Pandemic, to the line in his show description advising “NOT for the easily offended”, it’s easy to assume that he must be overcompensating for something.  Fortunately for his audience this is absolutely not the case.  Cross brings the magic to back up the swagger of his over the top character in a funny and interesting performance. 

Perhaps more impressive than any of the magic is how skillfully Cross manages to playfully poke fun at the audience without coming across as a bully.  It’s a tough thing to balance, if the many performers who are unable to do so are any indication, and Cross makes it look easy.  Of course in magic shows the audience is generally called upon to take a more active role, and Cross’s participants on the evening of this review were well chosen.  A cadre of Canadian students in particular rose to the occasion to perfectly match Cross’s energy on stage and enhance the show with their participation. 

Magicians often claim that they’ll show the audience tricks that they’ve never seen before, but his claim typically leaves those who have seen many magic shows feeling disappointed.  Cross, on the other hand, genuinely follows through with a series of tricks that this reviewer at least hasn’t seen before (and we at World Magic Review have seen a fair share of tricks).  This part of the show that is a bit of a history lesson is exceptionally fun to watch.  Cross’s enthusiasm for these weird old tricks that have long since fallen out of fashion breathes new life into the old props.  His style seamlessly blends the more standard card and escapist material with the tour of historic props, in a one man demonstration of the range and development of magical performance. 

Cross’s Pandemonium of Magic is a necessary stop at this year’s Fringe for anyone who has ever considered themselves to be a fan of magic, even if for no other reason than the historical interest of the old-fashioned props that he has brought back to the stage.  That being said there are plenty of other reasons to see his show, between his comedy, sleight of hand skills, and perfectly choreographed escapology.  It’s as difficult to pigeonhole his act as it is to keep him in a straitjacket, and his show is all the better for it. 

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

ALEX KOUVATAS: SOMETHING IS MISSING

☆☆☆

In a field where puns abound, Alex Kouvatas stands out as a master of their usage.  He sets the tone early in Something is Missing, bringing out the fish as promised.  Kouvatas is fantastic with his humour, charm with his audience, and in bringing his own take to his magic. However, he falters markedly in stitching the elements of his show together. 

Kouvatas performs a succession of magic and mentalist tricks, personalized to his style and performance.  His take on making an audience member’s money disappear is a fun example which he uses to bookend the show, but maybe even more fun is the fairly standard card trick which he adds his own ending to, preserving the magic for those who have seen the first part of the trick before.  He is warm with his participants, even explaining a pandemic-polite contact free hug at the end of a trick. 

Unfortunately Kouvatas struggles slightly, most notably in his transitions and confidence.  These two points of issue seemed to feed into each other, but as the show goes on, he appears to gain some confidence and transition more smoothly between tricks.  In addition, Something is Missing brings up interesting topics like dissonance between social norms of success and personal feelings of fulfillment that don’t get the time in the show to feel fully explored, but sound worth exploring. 

What seems to be is missing from Kouvatas’s show it is time and practice.  He suits the stage, shows an impressive degree of creativity in how he performs his tricks, and hints at an inclination to integrate broader themes in to his work.  He is certainly a magician to keep one’s eye on in the future.

Any Fringe debut is a huge achievement.  Making his Fringe debut during this weird pandemic Fringe must take an unbelievable amount of courage, for which Kouvatas deserves commendation.  And while his show could do with fine tuning, his wit and charm make him worth a visit this year.  

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

CHARLIE CAPER: SLEIGHT OF HAND

☆☆

Charlie Caper is perhaps best known for his delightful robots.  While these do make a cameo appearance in Sleight of Hand, Caper has reduced their role to focus on his sleight of hand magic skills.  He has a charming bumbling style that he can only pull off because his skill is so well honed.  Nevertheless, the robots that do feature still manage to steal the show.

The more involved robot sequence that Caper has included features his miniature robot self sharing a newspaper with his real self.  The magic is there as Caper destroys and restores the paper, but the real magic is in Caper’s chemistry with his robot self.  Watching them move in choreographed unison is such a fun moment, and even sweeter is seeing Caper gently hand props to his robot, so they can collaborate in amazing the audience.

The magic that Caper performs is a combination of more common tricks with some that are more specific to him.  Even the magic that the audience may have seen before is done so well that they cannot help feeling astonished.  His note changing is a perfect example of this—a trick done so commonly, by so many magicians of varying skill levels, that even casual magic fans may suspect how it is done.  However, even those who think they know the secret behind this trick will question that knowledge when they see Caper perform it.

Caper excels at magic, but it is often the non-magical sections of his show that truly set him apart.  He ends Sleight of Hand with what is less of a magic trick and more of a light show, while sharing a lovely life philosophy that brings meaning to the pretty flickering lights.  Caper is capable of creating magical moments far and beyond the anticipated trickery.

 

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

DAVE ALNWICK: ACTUAL MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Dave Alnwick uses a quote from one of this publication’s past reviews on his flyers this year, that lets prospective audiences know that Alnwick’s shows are notoriously busy and that they will have to arrive early to get a seat.  This reviewer initially failed to heed her own warning when trying to review Actual Magic.  Luckily it is worth the wait (and the return trip to the Voodoo Rooms).

The stand out feature of Actual Magic is how smoothly the threads of its story are woven into the performance as a whole.  Alnwick expresses fear that if he allows himself to put too much of his personal life into his performance it will just come across as emotionally manipulative.  Actual Magic drops hints and teasers throughout the show, so by the time he reaches the emotional heart of the story it comes across as genuine.  It is more than the one moment, in hindsight the entire show is composed as a memorial—and in a way that is uplifting and inspirational rather than incapacitated by grief.

The magic is incredible as well.  Alnwick emphasizes his mentalist tricks in this show without limiting himself to them.  One of his sleight of hand tricks excitingly makes use of his flyers rather than normal props like coins or cards.  All are perfectly performed to Alnwick’s usual high standards.  While Alnwick spends more time telling a story at this show than usual, the magic does not feel forced, but is an essential element of the narrative.

Alnwick mentions that he has been coming to the Fringe for a decade.  Those who have seen his comedy magic shows, in past years or even earlier in the day at this year’s Fringe, will see Actual Magic as even more exceptional.  Alnwick may come across as insecure in other shows.  Past themes of trying to convince everyone to join a cult to worship him, or prove that he is literally the best magician, build an inherently defensive relationship with the audience even by magic show standards.  It is an act that clearly works for him, as he is consistently incredibly popular.  Actual Magic, on the other hand, feels built on trust in his abilities as a magician and performer to connect with his audience, which is so wholesomely lovely to see.  Audiences seeing Alnwick for the first time at Actual Magic may not read this over-analysis in to it.  They will just have to settle for a perfectly constructed and flawlessly performed magic show.

 

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

GRIFFIN AND JONES: SURPRISINGLY GOOD MAGICIANS

Everything that Griffin and Jones do in Surprisingly Good Magicians is done in their distinctively silly style.  They wouldn’t just read an audience member’s mind, they must use their “mind reading goo”, a sticky fluorescent substance that is stored in a children’s lunchbox.  And they have a long section in which they use their mentalist powers to deduce which celebrity a volunteer has picked from the hat, in a style reminiscent of childhood boardgames.  The set up for that particular reveal might feel too long in the hands of less experienced performers, but it flies by in Griffin and Jones’s hilarious company. Magic fans might recognize some of the structures underlying their tricks, but Griffin and Jones always find ways to make their magic new and exciting.

Their final reveal of the evening, that you should not believe everything that you are told as all of the mechanisms that they use to produce “magic” are really tricks, initially sounds like the most obvious revelation ever.  However, their explanation is genuinely fascinating, as they go through how they buried the lead in each of the tricks that they performed in their show.

The slapstick magic style that Griffin and Jones have perfected does result in them often coming across as surprisingly good on the first watch, as they control the chaos that rapidly engulfs whatever stage they find themselves on.  This particular show is especially surprising, as these wacky performers discuss a topic as weighty as the proliferation of unreliable news stories, and even make it fit so perfectly into the silliness of their show.

 

More information on Griffin and Jones and their performance dates can be found here.

PIFF THE MAGIC DRAGON: LUCKY DRAGON TOUR

Anyone who might have seen images of a man in a dragon onesie with a dog strapped to his chest and expected Piff the Magic Dragon’s Lucky Dragon Tour to be a classic family friendly magic show would be disappointed.  The Lucky Dragon Tour is more of a parody of classic magic.  There are relatively few actual magic tricks by comedy magic standards, as Piff’s comedy shares the spotlight with his magic, but the tricks that are there are made to count.

The Lucky Dragon Tour has elements of a stereotype of a magic show—a glamorous assistant and a performing animal—but their roles in the show satirize those outdated conventions.  The glamorous assistant does wear a showgirl outfit, dance between tricks, and help Piff set tricks up.  However, the blatant dissonance of her act with the overall sensibility of the show mocks the sincerity of historical use of magicians’ assistants.

The animal performer at the Edinburgh Fringe this year is one of the original Mr Piffles’ many understudies, an employee of Edinburgh’s chihuahua café named Cleo, so that Mr Piffles would not have to undertake the traumatic transatlantic flight from Las Vegas.  This alone underscores a key difference between the Mr Piffles’ role and that of a more traditional trained magical animal.  Mr Piffles is treated very much as a treasured pet.  He shows no signs of having been trained to perform, beyond a tendency to tranquility despite the energy of the show, and is cradled in loving arms for the majority of his time on stage.  He is nevertheless not just a prop but very much the star of the show.

If Piff’s interactions with the audience come across as unkind, it is in such an over the top way that it seems to make fun of stereotypes of magicians or comedians whose attempts at interactive humor stray a little too frequently into insults.  He is watchful of his audience and chooses individuals who respond well to his teasing humor.  His magic is well performed and adapted to fit the show, making good use of a camera to magnify the smaller elements of the tricks for the large venue.

The Lucky Dragon Tour’s satirical take on magic is well worth the hour.  While, to be fair, the vast majority of modern magicians do not embody the stereotypes that Piff mocks, this old school is still a recent memory, and the last vestiges of that old fashioned style do still pop up from time to time.  Even for those unfamiliar with the type, Piff’s skill and humor stand alone as strong entertainment.  Arrive early for a chance at coming across Cleo hanging out in the audience!

 

More information on Piff the Magic Dragon and his performance dates can be found here.

MARK WATSON: LIVING THE DREAM

Man of Mischief Presents… Living the Dream! is advertised with a title and description, but without the name of the performer.  Audience members who find their way down the graffitied corridor to its windowless venue might feel some apprehension.  This is quickly dispelled by the cheery Mark Watson.  He builds Living the Dream on the story of his escape from corporate life to become a professional performer, and his joy in his new career is evident at every step of the show.

The highlight of the show is Watson’s superb juggling.  Other magicians might perform a bit of juggling as a novelty part of their show, but Watson is actually properly a juggler as well as a magician.  While his knife juggling may be a little bit scary, it is well received by the majority of the audience.  Unexpectedly, Watson also juggles cigar boxes.  He tells the story of how this was a classic feature of historical juggling performances, which is easy to believe.  Perhaps no one in the room knows as much about juggling as Watson, but it is difficult to imagine any other reason for him to independently decide that he wanted to learn juggling tricks with cigar boxes.  Regardless, what he does with them is absolutely incredible.

Watson’s magic is a little bit more patchy.  He starts strong, performing an escapist routine to escape from his suit jacket, a symbol of his past corporate lifestyle.  However, several of his tricks involve relatively long set up times, and he does not fill this time as gracefully as he could.  The results are nevertheless impressive.  His interactions with the audience are similarly patchy.  His joking interactions stray a bit too frequently into outright unkindness.  On the other hand, he does still build up enough trust for one especially brave audience participant to allow Watson to juggle knives over his face.

Living the Dream is worth a visit for the juggling alone.  Watson concludes the show by drawing a conclusion from his story, that everyone’s version of living their dream is different, and that he is grateful to be living his.  By this point the audience is happy to share in his pride at finding self-actualization.

 

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