Edinburgh

THE SECRET ROOM AT LAURISTON CASTLE

☆☆☆

MagicFest’s Secret Room events are fantastic, as the chosen venues lend a theme to the performances, and the addition of the historical lessons of the buildings ensure that the evening is about more than magic.  This second point is especially true for the Secret Room at Lauriston Castle.  The event features three magicians, but the castle itself is the fourth star of the show.

The audience is first led into the study, where Billy Reid begins the evening’s magic.  Reid is perhaps the most true to theme.  Inspired by a historical cabinet maker who lived at Lauriston Castle, he incorporates a wooden puzzle into his act, and he concludes with a coin trick inspired by the lost coin collection of one of the castle’s former residents.  Reid’s gorgeous illustrated card trick sequence set to “Caledonia” is a highlight, working particularly well in this smaller venue.

The drawing room of the castle barely contains the boisterous character of Ian Kendall.  His tricks are classic, featuring cups and balls or ropes and rings, but his jokes keep the audience laughing, and his rapport with the group draws everyone into the performance.  Kendall does integrate a bit of a history lesson in to his act, and expresses suitable admiration for the room that he is performing in, but only very tenuously links his tricks to the history of the venue.  He makes this work as his larger-than-life personality easily distracts the audience from any thematic absence.

Chris Cook concludes the performances of the evening in the castle’s library.  The tidy precision of Cook’s magic style is exceptionally effective with this smaller audience.  In keeping with the theme, Cook uses an audience participant’s phone for his final trick, because, as he explains, these days the internet serves a similar purpose that a library would have back when Lauriston Castle was built.   While this does run in to technical difficulties, Cook maintains the momentum of his performance to deliver his reveal.  It is perhaps all the more impressive for the unplanned extra suspense.

Cook’s performance brings the magic of the evening to a close, but the audience is lucky enough to have the opportunity to stick around for a quick tour of the remaining rooms of the castle.  This includes two real secret rooms hidden in the performance venues.  As the event begins with a brief re-telling of the story of the castle and ends on this tour, the actual magic shows feel surrounded by history.

Lauriston Castle is an incredible venue for this Secret Room event, and the magic matches the excellence of the architecture.  The assortment of magicians is well chosen, as their contrasting styles ensure that each of their performances feels distinct, and the contrast makes the event feel balanced.  The castle and illusions combined ensure a wonderful evening steeped in all the best history and magic Scotland has to offer.

RENZ NOVANI: POET OF THE IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

For a magic show, Poet of the Impossible is curiously light on magic, at least in the illusions sense.  Renz Novani’s poetry and storytelling share the spotlight with his magic tricks.  It is clear from the beginning that this is because Renz is a compelling performer, both with and without his magic. It does mean that his show might feel exceptionally niche—his best audience will be those who enjoy both magic and poetry—but those boundary-defying qualities also lend him a wider appeal, as a performer first and foremost over his role as a poet or magician.

In a fun twist on classic playing card trickery, Renz frames an opening trick by talking about his early days of learning magic out of books, and then having an audience participant read instructions from a magic book to guide him through a trick.  The audience feels as if we are taking part in this childhood anecdote.  But of course the instructions that are read out are incomplete, and the audience is still amazed to see the trick succeed.

Renz ventures into less conventional magical props with his use of tarot cards for a mind reading trick.  He does briefly use them for their intended purpose, while acknowledging that he himself is not a believer in such fortune telling.  When he finishes by using the tarot cards to reveal his mentalist trickery he dazzles the audience on his own terms rather than those set by the cards that he is using.

Poet of the Impossible winds down show by Renz telling stories about magic while performing the magic that he describes.  In one he describes a childhood dream about fairies fixing his broken toy while fixing it on stage in front of the audience.  He uses this to then draw a parallel between dreaming and watching magic, with both allowing for temporary escape from reality.

Renz’s graceful magic combined with his spoken word performance gently reshape his audience’s perception of reality while keeping us grounded in the real world.  While fans of both magic and poetry might get the most out of Poet of the Impossible, the elegance of his performance is enchanting to all.

BILLY REID – STORYTELLER

☆☆☆

In Storyteller, Billy Reid structures his performance around stories from his childhood, using magic to illustrate them and bring them to life.  “Illustrate” is perhaps the key word here, as aside from being incredibly well performed, Reid’s magic tricks are more often than not exceptionally aesthetically pleasing.

Reid sets this tone from his first card trick.  He starts it classically enough, with an audience participant picking a card that Reid then shuffles back in to his deck, but when the cards start changing to match the story that Reid tells, the fact that in the end he successfully finds the right card is actually the least exciting part of the act.  The artistic trend continues in Reid’s mentalist tricks, as he reads a volunteer’s mind by painting the scene that she is thinking of on a canvas on stage, his firm and decisive brush strokes keeping the audience engaged in trying to work out the final image.

Like all of this year’s solo shows at MagicFest, Storyteller is performed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and one of Reid’s tricks in particular would not look out of place in one of their exhibitions.  Reid uses a blank card deck that he has illustrated himself to tell the story of his love for Scotland in a trick that showcases both his magical and artistic skills.  This is a particularly inventive highlight of Reid’s beautifully creative show.

Reid’s tricks rely on audience participation just as much as any other magician’s, but Reid is notable in that he invites volunteers to step forward before randomly selecting a participant himself.  While both approaches have their merits, Reid’s worked for him in that his volunteers were visibly excited to participate, and the shyer members of his audience were presumably a little bit less stressed.  It is certainly more enjoyable to watch audience participants who participate enthusiastically.

Storyteller is a gorgeous production.  One of the personal details that Reid shares is that as a child he was passionate about his art classes, which is no surprise to his audience after seeing this show.  Reid smoothly combines his illustrative and performance skills into a remarkable experience.

WIZARD WORLD GATHERING

☆☆☆

MagicFest’s Wizard World Gathering has incredible potential as an event.  Harry Potter is obviously hugely popular, and magicians are ideally suited to bring the magic of Harry Potter into the muggle world.  There are certainly elements of the Wizard World Gathering that rise to the occasion.  The décor is incredibly detailed, the food and drink vendors have an admirable commitment to the theme, and framing the magic shows as “lessons” is an excellent way to create Hogwarts magic from stage magic.  However, the magicians themselves do not feel consistently committed to the Harry Potter theme, preventing it from being a cohesive event, and a few issues in the arrangement of the night detract slightly from its success.

The magic shows begin with R Paul Wilson’s “Expert Magic”.  From the start this is an outlier to the claimed theme, lacking in relevance to Harry Potter.  But to his credit, Wilson’s act itself is suitably entertaining; displaying his range of coin tricks and pickpocket-based card tricks.  Wilson may have misjudged the venue when planning one of his final tricks, which features him and several volunteers seated around a table.  Due to the layout of the theatre this is difficult to see, even from the middle of the audience.  The final effect is nevertheless impressive.

Kevin Quantum’s “Levitation Demonstrations” has an appreciably more Harry Potter theme.  Quantum takes a science fiction approach to this fantasy world, framing his show as his quest to discover a scientific means to levitate.  One of his tricks involving audience volunteers is really more of a trust exercise than a proper magic trick, which makes it all the more remarkable that Quantum is able to seamlessly include it in his act.  Quantum’s act feels less like a collection of tricks and more like a coherent theatrical production, with an admirable blend of his own magical style with the theme given to him.

“Time Travel 101” with John Henry Blackwood unfortunately often feels more hindered than helped by its theme.  Blackwood spends an inordinate amount of the middle of his act on a trick involving a toy plunger that is charming enough in and of itself but is only very loosely related to his own time travel concept.  However, he begins and ends with tricks that do genuinely use his theme to enhance the overall effect.  The stickers on the trunk that he uses as a table and the deathly hallows charm on his clothing are a lovely nods to the aesthetic of the evening.

Magic aside, there are a few issues that came up with the Wizard World Gathering itself.  As attendants enter the Assembly Roxy they are handed tickets with a couple of timings of the magic shows, but it is not explained that it is necessary to bring the ticket to that show time to be guaranteed a seat.   Many who were new to MagicFest took these timings as suggestions or reminders, and in the absence of an official explanation it fell to those who had attended previous similar MagicFest events to explain the system.  Also, in spite of the online description of the event as a party, the event really still feels like a series of magic shows.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but not what one is led to expect. There are few other activities in the central hall, and some are unexpectedly shut over an hour before the end of the event.  Additionally the Harry Potter quiz, while fun, could have done with a few more challenging questions.

That being said, the attention to detail in the decoration of the venue is absolutely fantastic.  The central hall is decorated as the Great Hall, and includes an intricately set up photo backdrop.  The common room, where the quiz is held, features a wall papered in book-print, and the bathroom even includes a snake sticker by one of the taps.  These details create a delightful atmosphere that is a highlight of the event.  Creating the right atmosphere is so crucial to events like this one, and for its flaws there are moments when attendees at the Wizard World Gathering feel truly transported to Hogwarts.

LEWIS BARLOW – CARDS, COINS & MINDS

☆☆☆☆

Lewis Barlow chose a very straightforward name for his show—Cards, Coins, and Minds—and he does exactly what it says on the tin, performing a series of coin and card tricks and reading a few audience members’ minds.  The premise is simple, but the magic is enthralling.  Barlow performs to an audience comprised largely of adults accompanied by young children, and he easily holds the attention of all ages.

Barlow begins with a quick few coin tricks.  While these are entertaining enough, a few of the younger children were still a bit fidgety until he brought out the cards.  Using a younger audience member as one of his first participants was both a nice way to include that segment of the audience and perhaps helpful in getting them on board with sitting still for the rest of the show.

Following this is his mind reading, where Barlow continues to excel.  He has mastered the art of timing his preparatory work just long enough to build anticipation while not continuing so long that he loses the attention of the children.  He uses both cards and less traditional magic props to maximize effect, and finishes up with a wonderfully performed déjà vu themed card trick that leaves the audience amazed as we exit the theatre.

If there is one critique to be raised of Barlow’s performance, it is in his poor handling of young child shouting out that she wanted to have a go at volunteering in his show.  Considering his experience (Barlow has been a magician for twenty years, he tells the audience in this show) one might have expected him to have contingency plans prepared for audience interference.  Seeing this instance apparently catch him unawares was especially surprising considering how well he otherwise dealt with his younger audience members.

In Cards, Coins, and Minds, Barlow’s performance is both pleasantly straightforward and captivatingly complex.  Barlow’s gentle stage presence inspires audience trust, and his evident magical skill enchants the audience.  Cards, Coins, and Minds is an excellent piece of family magic to entertain guardian and child alike.

THE SECRET GIFT – EXTRA (DRUNK) REVIEW

☆☆☆

Disclaimer: The “real” review of MagicFest’s Christmas show can be found here. But, we had an extra reviewer in Edinburgh keen to see the show, and once upon a time a reviewer joked to our Editor-in-Chief, “hey what if we did drunk reviews for shows as second reviews” and, terrifyingly, our Editor-in-Chief took this joke seriously. Enjoy! 

I went to see the secret gift. A MagicFest production for the Christmas season. Kevin Quantum is the compare and has come on in leaps and bounds since I saw him hosting  MagicFest. Edinburgh is the stage back drop and there are lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling and the whole theatre is beautiful to start. Admittedly, as I am drunk reviewing my first thoughts are “Pretty… why am I here? Oh yes, Magic!”.

Kevin made champagne from thin air, then introduced “The Art of Illusion” a Scottish illusion team. Male and female. Steryotypical magic tricks, woman in box disappears; but I have never seen that done before and it is breathtaking. They are an attractive pair, strong and able, and perfectly suited to the stage. The magicians assistant did not shy from the spot light. The one area that could have used a different trick was between sets the male magician pulled a long cord from his mouth, from my perspective all I could think was “TAPEWORM”!” I think there needed to be a break but something different to a tapeworm could be used.The show focused around using sex to distract from what was going on. A clever trick in some respects.

The next act is the hilarious Professor Kelso. He has a Shakespearean excellence about him. His voice, his act, it is all hilarious before the magic starts. He says he is a hypnotist, no! a magician no! a mind reader! No!  Magician! It is a great beginning. He has the costume and the voice and the act. But then he moved to cheap fortune telling. That could have been different. He has so much going for him but I found the reading of the audience dull and unrewarding. Well done, after 20 questions you have the correct answer. He has a lot of talent to be on the stage but needs to move away from fortunes. You are not a grandmother Professor Kelso!

There was an act before the interval from caberet rather than magic but let me tell you! It is magical to me! My mind is blown. The Bubble Poet came on stage with his act, and though I know what is happening, it is amazing! He is a stage artiste! He can make magic happen before your eyes in coloured smoke and dish detergent. Phenomenal.

After the interval Kevin worked his magic with his introduction, then brought on stage a rather interesting Spaniard by name “David Blanco”. By this point I was somewhat intoxicated and found David to play on his race rather more than necessary. He was a slight of hand magician who also performed card tricks. Inticially I thought “typical, playing on suggestion, and playing on accents” but he is very amusing. And very good at what he does. He uses his “foreign-ness” to his advantage.

Professor Kelso is back on stage to perform the “12 days of Magic”. He is so good at the piano it is a shame to see him go to waste filling time like this. It was caberet but not especially special or interesting. The “12 days of Christmas” or whatever is done! Move on. Kelso is an excellent character who deserves lots of time in the sun performing interesting pieces for the mind, not for the child.

Kevin came back and performed a hilarious piece about mind wandering. Where is the ball? Here or here? Used sexual tension as a joke which seemed cheap but followed up with pure quality misdirection. He misdirected you here, so you didn’t notice the misdirection over there. Very well done. Huge amounts of showmanship, and I would like to learn a trick or two from you. Producing lemons! Amazing!

Finally “The Art of Illusion” came back on stage. A winner to begin but now at the end (after a few drinks) it’s clichéd and over done. The beautiful assistant being your distraction, really!? I’d like to see the same show performed with a man. It was well done, steryotypical tricks, which I think modern theatre is lacking. But what modern theatre is also lacking is equality. Wearing leather boots does not equal tiny Santa costume. You are good at being a magician. Don’t diminish it by being a sexist.

Overall a wonderful show. I saw MagicFest and this was a level beyond. Well done, well performed.

 

THE SECRET GIFT

☆☆☆☆

The stage at the Traverse Theatre sets the tone for the Magicfest Christmas Special “The Secret Gift” with a lovely silhouette of the Edinburgh skyline, featuring hanging lights appropriately reminiscent of the enchanted candles of Hogwarts.

The show is hosted by Kevin Quantum, who weaves Christmas cheer through the evening with his between-act entertainment.  His commitment to the Christmas theme in each of his appearances is admirable.  Quantum is at his charming best when interacting with his audience participants, and holds the attention of parent and child alike with his engaging misdirections.

The first act to take the stage is Chris de Rosa and his glamorous assistant in The Art of Illusion.  This act features many classic magical effects, with the two surviving a variety of seemingly fatal situations. This pair excels at coordinating their turns in the spotlight to support each other’s performances.  De Rosa and his partner return to the stage as the final act of the evening, with a more festively themed take on their signature style.  Their closing trick is a suitably playful end to the program.

Professor Kelso follows with a decidedly more comedic form of magic.  While his sleight of hand and mind reading clearly delight the audience, it is his fantastic character that keeps the audience laughing during his time on stage.  Kelso is the other performer who appears twice in the show.  His second performance is a break from the usual course of the show, featuring Kelso leading the audience in a sing-along of a Christmas carol that he has re-written to a magic theme.  This level of audience participation lends a pantomime atmosphere to this portion of the evening.

Another break in the usual course of magic comes from Señor Pérez, who is not a magician, but a bubble artist.  Neither properly magical nor especially Christmassy, Pérez’s bubble choreography is nevertheless enchanting.  His ephemeral creations prove truly captivating to watch.

The final magician, David Blanco, performs a series of card and coin tricks.  His decision to perform these tricks in a relatively large theatre may initially seem questionable, as both are more commonly performed for smaller audiences, but the dimensions of the theatre, and Blanco’s clever use of the largest coins available, means that his tricks are still relatively visible from the farther side of the audience.  The commendable scaling of close up magic for a larger audience in this act allows this show to demonstrate a wide range of magic styles.

The variety of acts in “The Secret Gift” makes for an exciting evening. The show seems especially popular with families with young children, and the performers successfully cater to the range of age groups in the audience.  The overarching festive cheer of this show successfully extends the magic of Christmas well beyond its usual temporal limits.