magic

CHRIS DUGDALE: UP CLOSE!

Chris Dugdale is pure Las Vegas cheesiness, and if you don’t like that you won’t like this show. But even if you don’t, you have to admit, he’s the best at it around. Up Close is perfectly on-brand Dugdale, loud and smarmy and yet undeniably entertaining.

Dugdale is the definition of polished and slick. Not a second of the show lags, not a single thing a volunteer says throws him off, and every single joke get uproarious laughter and applause. One almost expects magicians of his brand of theatrical to go for some laughs at their volunteers’ expense, but he is absolutely professional and utterly respectful. Dugdale only ever laughs with his volunteers, and showers them with compliments to offset the unease of being onstage in front of so many people. Having been brought onstage myself, I can attest that he absolutely should be commended for this deference.

Up Close is not a show of terribly original magic; it’s not even new to him, which will be very apparent if you’ve seen him at the Fringe before. But his experience with the material means that it is flawlessly executed. And despite this repetition, none of the content ever comes across as stale, with Dugdale pouring his ample enthusiasm into every word and gesture.

Chris Dugdale’s Up Close is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the best at being ridiculous you’ll find. For an hour of fun and funny entertainment, expert showmanship, and masterly magic, Up Close is a solid pick.

 

Chris Dugdale can be found at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:10 from August 18-26

BEN HART: THE NUTSHELL

☆☆

The room already radiates an air of enigma as you walk in, and this is just your basic Fringe venue. What is it about Ben Hart that infuses mysteriousness into any room in which he walks?  That question may never be answered, and maybe that’s for the best. What can be known, however, is that Ben Hart’s The Nutshell is an elegant, stylistic experience in truly beautiful magic.

The Nutshell feels, in a nutshell (sorry), like a desperate and intense attempt of a magician at piercing the true nature of his art and its’ limits. A journey in magical madness, even, but one so artfully explored that it pulls every onlooker in, captivated from start to finish. From changing the course of fate to nature to murder, Hart somehow connects an array of topics into a enthralling rhythm.

Hart is an understated performer, gentle in word and movement, which makes his magic feel all the more astonishing when it happens- you’ve been lulled into a pleasant reverie by his stories when you’re caught off guard by the reveal of the illusion he’s slipped past you. Hart is masterful at maintaining a sense of delicious tension, never letting the mood break even when he has to instruct audience volunteers. He weaves his way through the slipperiest of sleight of hand, and appears as watchful of his audience as we are of him, a small smirk as if wondering how far he can trick us into suspending our disbelief.

Ben Hart is an exceptionally skillful magician and a bewitching performer. You won’t leave The Nutshell completely understanding what you just saw- or even what you were meant to see- but you won’t be able to stop wondering about it.

 

Ben Hart can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:15 from August 18-27

ELLIOT BIBBY: MCMAGIC MOMENTS

According to Elliot Bibby, his is the only Scottish-themed magic show at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. This isn’t something that would necessarily be obvious, but once you think about it, you realize it’s true. It seems a little wrong that this fantastic festival that absolutely explodes across Edinburgh for a full month every year would lack representation of their hosts in a category as significant as magic, but that’s exactly what’s happened. That being said, Bibby certainly does his homeland proud in this snappy and sweet show.

The Scottish theme is ever present but not invasive, making an appearance with a Saltire as the focal point of the sparse stage decor, Scottish music, and in Bibby’s stories of his grandmother in Skye. These stories provide Bibby’s foundation for his show, and work well to connect each element into a compelling experience. Bibby also succeeds in rolling with the unexpected. He keeps his cool and deals admirably with his occasional tech problems and confused volunteers.

Bibby’s greatest strength, even considering his fast-paced and impeccably performed magic, is his ability to engage his audience. He is genuinely funny in an unpackaged way, for although he certainly has mastered his practiced patter, he also has a open and cheerful affect that makes everyone happy to be there and comes across friendly and sincere. Bibby has perfected the balance of the aloof mystery that so befits a magician and heartfelt authenticity.

To say Elliot Bibby’s McMagic Moments is the best Scottish-themed magic show at the Edinburgh Fringe might be a little too cheeky. But just because it is the only one doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth a visit, not just for the novelty, but because it’s a fun and exciting show.

 

Elliot Bibby can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 16:30 from August 17-19, 21-26

BREAKING THE MAGICIANS’ CODE WITH KANE & ABEL

If you’re a magician out there worrying about your code being broken, I’m here to tell you that you can relax. Kane & Abel do not break the magicians’ code, in fact, they probably would’t be able to if they tried (they don’t).

Breaking the Magicians code is a difficult show to describe, mostly due to it’s erratic nature. The two magicians do start with this concept of performing a trick, then walking through how they did it to ‘break the code.’ This idea is, however, quickly abandoned, with the impression of it having just been forgotten about.

Kane & Abel continue on to do further magic tricks, and, now without their overarching theme, their show falls into random, erratic, and poorly planned. There seems to be little attempt to connect one moment to the next, and the result is a mishmash of jumbled effects.

Contributing to this feel of messiness is the fact that Kane & Abel are clearly improvising their humor through large parts of the show. This one aspect is unique in being more impressive than it is distracting. Kane & Abel have developed a strong feel for banter, both between themselves and with their audience. Their on-stage personas juxtapose well with each other, and their cheek is admittedly endearing, if at times excessively juvenile.

Breaking the Magicians’ Code with Kane & Abel isn’t a cohesive experience and the messiness is distracting and at times tedious, but the magicians themselves bring an affable cheesiness to the show.

 

Kane & Abel can be found at Liquid Room Annex (Venue 276) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 13:15 from August 17-21, 23-26

THE VANISHING MAN & THE EXTINCTION EVENT

“A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” So say Jean Robert- Houdin, the 19th century French conjurer considered the father of modern magic.  And so be David Aula and Simon Evans. Their two, interconnected shows, The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event, are billed as theatre but are filled to the brim with magic, and it’s impossible to tell what’s the most amazing part. It’s very, very hard to weave magic tricks into a compelling, coherent story, or at least is must be because it’s very, very rare to see it done well. This is one of those rare times. Both The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event would be excellent examples of great theatre even without the magic, even on just the strength of their stories, but the physical element of illusions puts them onto a whole new level.

These shows, which are better reviewed together rather than apart, are also better viewed together rather than apart. Although they can technically both stand alone, the emotional impact of the second one, the Extinction Event, is much stronger for seeing the former. The pertinent background is shared at the beginning just in case you haven’t seen them both, but that information packs so much more of a punch when learned over the course of a show than in a quick sentence of catch up. In The Vanishing Man, a magician and his friend take us through the mysterious case of the fictional Edwardian magician Hugo Cedar, and his greatest and most terrible trick- vanishing without a trace (or much of a trace) off London Bridge. This long dead magician and his story have an immense effect on the two magicians, and like any magic show, not all is as it seems. In The Extinction Event, these same men dip into the impact of machines on our lives, the implications of them for magic, and the possibilities of hypnosis. All done with such astoundingly intelligent storytelling and incredible heart, it may actually make you cry.

Almost as notable as the stories themselves is the unique way Aula and Evans have of engaging their audience in interacting with the shows. The instructions are almost impossibly efficient and effective, and make every single member of the audience invested in the performance and leave no one feeling embarrassed or really singled out.  Not counting the audience, these are two man shows, and Aula and Evans also excel in their chemistry with each other. Their pacing is flawless, their relationships relatable, and their performances a perfect match.

The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event are the cleverest shows at the Edinburgh Fringe twice over, and are as beautiful and entertaining as they are smart. To put it in no uncertain terms, they are absolutely unmissable.

 

The Vanishing Man can be found at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 14:10 from August 16-27

The Extinction Event can be found at the same place and dates at 15:40

CHRIS COOK: CHANCE

Chris Cook mentions in his show that this is his fifth year at the Fringe. Chance is undeniable proof that he’s not only not lost his charm, but is only getting better with experience. Cook is the model of a modern magician in his open affect and obvious affability. Not a magician here to trick you- well, yes, here to trick you, but not to taunt you with it. It’s clear that Cook sees his attendees not just as people for him to fool but as people to invite to an opportunity of wonder, to imagine a life with less repetitive drudgery and more delight.

It’s apparent immediately that Cook puts his volunteers at ease, an impressive feat when pulling them out of the safety and anonymity of the audience to stand on stage in front of everyone and do something they haven’t prepared for. But he instructs well, doesn’t mock, and is quick to make himself the butt of any joke before subjecting his volunteers to it. This has the secondary effect of endearing the rest of the audience to him (because who knows who could be next?) and, combined with his honest humor and breathless exuberance, creates a great atmosphere for the show.

Cook doesn’t shy away from anything that would make his magic relatable to his audience, and in Chance this involves political content. Implying a political stance in a magic show at the Fringe can be risky- your audience probably didn’t come expecting it the way they could for theatre or comedy, and it’s unlikely that at least some of them don’t strongly disagree with you. Due to a slight but noticeable muting of the audience’s good cheer surrounding his political content, it’s possible that this choice is occasionally having a real effect on Cook’s show. But a magician is not a vehicle for illusions, they should have principles and ultimately this political engagement is a daring and admirable choice. Cook proves that magic doesn’t have to be a frozen moment of late 19th/ early 20th century “golden age” that so many magicians like to hearken back to and romanticize, but instead can thrive as a sharp, to the point engagement with politics and his audience’s anxieties. Never faltering or losing a beat of his abounding charisma, Cook can dip into places more vulnerable, more uncertain, more real- and takes his audience with him.

Cook illustrates in Chance the breadth of possibilities of magic; the stories and situations and emotions that can engage with it. His magic enlivens his audience and makes them receptive to his finale- his encouragement and inspiration to breathe, to let their defenses fall, and to remember their basic human connection. Chance is not only a fantastic magic show to experience Cook’s impressive skills and great humor, but a reflection on our unbreakable capacity for wonder and hope, despite it all.

 

Chris Cook can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 15:10 from August 16-26

 

 

PHANTASMAGORICAL

The aesthetic atmosphere of the basement of Cabaret Voltaire is exactly what one would want and expect from a show that promises “spooky mind reading and Victorian spirit theatre.” Unfortunately, the dark, musty, and legitimately cobwebbed room is the only aspect in which Phantasmagorical excels.

Phantasmagorical is described in its’ Fringe listing as having magic and storytelling. And indeed it does have both. However, while it is possible to integrate these things well, Phantasmagorical does not do so. There is a story in Phantasmagorical. It is a stereotypical spooky Victorian story, with creepy dolls and a ghostly friend and an asylum. The story doesn’t come across as particularly well thought out, isn’t particularly compelling and has no dramatic tension or emotional payoff to speak of, but it exists. There is also magic in Phantasmagorical. It is not particularly well performed, but it is there. But even with these two elements definitely present, they only make each other worse by being clumsily forced together. The magic tricks do not integrate into the story well at all, they seem tangentially connected at best and distract from an already choppy plot. At times, it feels like the author and performer, Sylvia Sceptre, knew what she wanted in the storytelling and forced in the first trick she could think of that was sort of related. At other times, it seems she knew what trick she wanted to perform and forced the story to allow it to fit in, regardless of whether that would be an organic twist.

With Phantasmagorical already suffering from a clunky and fragmented concept, it’s also unfortunate that it was simply ill-performed. The storytelling was overacted with unnerving affect, Sceptre seemed unprepared to handle interacting with the audience, and there were several obvious flubs in the magic tricks that she didn’t recover from quickly. The whole event came across as painfully awkward and under-rehearsed.

There aren’t many female magicians at the Fringe, and it’s great to see one working on and developing a unique act with a decent concept. However, Phantasmagorical is in definite need of further development, both in content and in performance.

 

Phantasmagorical can be found at Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire (Venue 338) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 12:15 from August 15-26