magic

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.

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.

RENZ NOVANI: ORACLE

The title “Oracle” and its poster featuring Renz Novani with a crystal ball initially appear to be very old fashioned.  However, Novani has brought the oracle theme into the modern day.  He even begins his show by reading audience members’ minds using Cards Against Humanity cards, which both brings more of the audience’s personality into play, and helps the participants as they have something more relevant to remember than a playing card.  Opening the show with a party game creates a sense of community amongst the audience.  Novani acts more as the host of a premonition party than a mysterious oracle for much of his performance.

As the host, Novani gets the entire audience involved in making predictions.  His use of many audience members in a variation of the Cards Against Humanity section seems to be at least as much for his own (and the audience’s) amusement as it is to directly contribute to his mentalist feats—a respectable motivation.  If Novani took his attempts at making predictions too earnestly he might leave himself open to ridicule, so this mood lightener is clever.

A central element in Oracle calls for everyone in the audience to attempt to act as a successful oracle themselves.  While Novani does not provide anyone with the traditional hallucinogenic drugs to aid attempts at clairvoyance, the trance-inducing music that he plays is relaxing in its own right.

A final part of his show does involve Novani taking on a more classically Oracle role, but even here he is open about using his skills at reading people rather than pretending to have genuine psychic powers.  Despite his joking earlier in the show, Novani never fully shook the ethereal quality of his performance persona, and here it is at its full strength.  Perhaps wisely, Novani keeps his readings encouraging and supportive without presuming to offer specific advice.

Novani’s conclusion to Oracle is ultimately encouraging.  He believes that the future is ruled by choice rather than fate, and has chosen to use his stage to inspire others to take an active role in deciding their own futures.

 

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

CAMERON YOUNG: THE SECRETS SHOW

☆☆

The Secrets Show is not quite sure what it wants to be.  The audience may get the impression that it is a test run, in which the performer is looking to figure out what direction he might want to take in his magical career.  Luckily the performer in question is Cameron Young, who is brimming with magical skill and charisma.  Watching him show off the variety of tricks in his repertoire is a pleasure.

Young has a clear preference for dangerous magic, interspersing these risky tricks throughout the show.  His version of the classic trick involving a dangerous bag is of note because he has made the effort to switch up the number of bags and level of audience involvement, giving it a more personal touch.  His interactions with his primary audience participant for this trick have a pleasantly humorous effect on what can otherwise be a fairly scary trick.

In contrast, one of the segments that Young spends a considerable amount of time on is a very sweet extended camping trip story sequence.  Young talks about how his childhood spent camping led to a love of magic (the story of how he encountered a magician in the wilderness is teased but never fully explained) and weaves several tricks into the fabric of the narrative.  He successfully creates moments for the magic and storytelling to complement each other.

Where Young struggles slightly is in blending this narrative approach with his proclivity for dangerous stunts.  It can certainly be done, and Young certainly seems to have the magical and performance skills to create and perform a more cohesive show.  Even when working with such disjointed material his is an engaging stage presence and manages to create a fun magical atmosphere.

 

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

PAUL NATHAN: MAGIC HOUR

A charming San Franciscan, Paul Nathan makes clear to his audience from the beginning that his Magic Hour isn’t really a magic show, it’s just us hanging out with him and watching him perform some magic tricks.  It is not even really an hour, as the scheduled run time is forty minutes!  However, Nathan invariably gets caught up in performing and runs late.  Nathan switches up his show depending on the audience, and is even open to requests, inviting everyone present to suggest a trick that they might have seen him perform on TV or on Youtube.

When it started to rain, as is so common at this year’s Fringe, Nathan kindly allowed the audience to enter the tent that he is to perform in a few minutes earlier than planned.  The last few bits of set up become an appropriately casual introduction to the “not really a show”.  Nathan gradually starts introducing himself to his intimate audience during this time.  By the time the magic starts properly, being invited up to participate in the tricks feels less like joining a performance and more like helping Nathan show everyone the cool skills that he has mastered.

The magic itself is exceptional.  The Magic Hour is a close up magic show, and Nathan seems to favor his cards, but the one effect that he performs with several large coins is done to perfection as well.  Nathan encourages the audience to lean in for a closer look, and even move their chairs behind him to try to catch him out.  By the end of the hour, the majority of the audience has abandoned their chairs entirely to lean in as closely as possible to Nathan’s card table.

The time flies past in Nathan’s fascinating company.  He seems to take genuine delight in his performance.  Those looking for an hour of fun magic tricks can hardly do better than Nathan’s Magic Hour.

 

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