magic

COLIN CLOUD: SINFUL

☆☆☆☆

The undeniable truth of the Edinburgh Fringe is that if you want to be guaranteed to see some of the most entertaining magic around, you should probably be going to Colin Cloud’s show of the year. Cloud has been performing at the Fringe for several years, and always manages to outshine himself by bringing new and exciting ideas to his work.

In this year’s creation, Sinful, Cloud plays with the idea that even if we’d like to think we’re saints, we all have a little sinner in us. And he and fellow magician Chloe Crawford use their almost intimidating skill to read what you’ve shoved deep into the back of your mind, the truth of your mischief.

Cloud knows what he does well, and knows not to get rid of a good thing. The first portion of his show is classic Cloud, spot on mind reading that leaves his audience gasping in wonder at how it could possibly have been done, how even the “modern day Sherlock Holmes” could have been quite so astute. But Cloud is not out of surprises yet. He’s got a new twist- from reading your mind to leading your mind. Not to spoil the twist, but if you go to Sinful thinking you’re the height of innocence- it won’t last.

Also relatively new to him is working in partnership. Crawford and Cloud are not just peers but fiances, getting a head start on being one of the great married magician teams. Crawford seems a little rushed and nervous, but she needn’t be, her parts of the show are impeccably performed and her showmanship utterly compelling. It’s easy to see how these two magicians found themselves to be a match. Their styles are very similar in their wholehearted commitment to an aesthetic. They match their demeanors perfectly to the narrative at hand, without losing their well crafted personas. It is very interesting to see the way that Crawford and Cloud work as a team, and it would be great to see more of their onstage chemistry.

Sinful is an enticingly good show, full of everything the Fringe crowds have already decided they love about Colin Cloud, with a few new twists. And just when you think you’ve got Sinful figured out, Cloud and Crawford prove that the trick has been on you all along.

 

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

 

MAGICAL BONES: BLACK MAGIC

☆☆☆

There is only one hip hop dancing magician at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, but Magical Bones does not rest on the laurels of the uniqueness of this aspect. Rather, in Black Magic, he has created a show that is both fun and thought provoking, and skillfully performed throughout.

The term ‘Black Magic’ is not in reference to sinister sorcery, or folk magic that the west misappropriated and misconstrued. It is instead for his own position as a black magician. Bones gives honor to  his magician role models by performing tricks inspired by them at several parts of the show, and uses his platform to teach his audience about these underappreciated black magicians of the past.

But Bones is not just good in the shadow of others, he’s pure charm all on his own. Even when a trick or two may falter, the magician doesn’t, and his enchanting personality keeps everyone on board.

Bones not only incorporates his dancing skills into his act, but even a little audience education of it in individual tricks. He shares his personal journey into these combined passions through magical effects as many magicians do, but he has a very unique story to tell. Most compelling of all is a beautiful mix of a classic card effect and a song mash up that accompanies it perfectly.

You don’t have to like hip hop to watch Black Magic, but you may find that you do by the end. Magical Bones has created a fresh and surprisingly educational experience, and he never loses a beat.

 

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

MASON KING: SLEIGHT OF MIND

☆☆

Mason King’s Sleight of Mind is a primer on classic mentalism effects. A confident performer,  every piece of King’s show is delivered with the utmost technical perfection, from preparing the audience for what is to come to chaining together the different ways he would read their minds. Nothing in Sleight of Mind is uncomfortable, nothing is offensive. Over the course of the hour reviewed King received one single surprised gasp, a few chuckles, and polite applause for the majority of his tricks, most of them without having to overtly prompt the audience to do so.

But, I’m afraid to say, shows like this are exactly why some people don’t like magic shows. Magic isn’t off-putting when it’s actually bad, no, that makes it horrifically interesting. It’s off-putting when it is bland. Sleight of Mind really is just a primer- nothing more and nothing less than every trick in some fictional volume of mentalism standards, with a few general magic standards thrown in.  Everything from the tricks done to the words around them is like script from someone and everyone else’s book, even when King introduces himself: I was (enter number under 15) years old when I got into magic, here’s a line about my mentor, here’s how I’m going to read your mind.

Sleight of Mind has no narrative, no theme, no gimmick, no twist. King makes no real attempt at comedy and has no sense of comedic timing, nor does he afford the audience a sense of himself, or his personality, or make an effort to tie the humanity and stories of his audience members in. He gives us no reason to care, no reason to be invested, no reason to spend money to see his show. Sleight of Mind is a perfect first draft, a perfect skeleton, a perfect ‘what’ and ‘how’ to overlay with ‘why?’ Now all King needs is to find that missing piece, to find the ‘why’, or, if he knows it, to share it with his audiences. Because truthfully, that it the piece that matters the most.

 

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

LUKE JERMAY: STRANGE POWER

☆☆☆☆

Predicting the future is indeed a strange power. Who even, really, wants to know what comes next? Wouldn’t that take the fun out of it? But for those who have gotten to experience Luke Jermay, the fun of it is undeniable.

Strange Power is not a pretentious show, despite the teeming grandiose of Jermay. It is a thing exactly of itself- a man will come onstage, answer the deepest questions his audience members have of their futures and, sixty minutes later, leave. It is one single act done identically, but it is one single act done incredibly well.

Jermay is an exceptionally powerful performer. From the moment he steps onstage he radiates such a strong sense of presence- despite not saying a word for the first several minutes- that the audience is held in his thrall and wait in their own silent, excited anticipation, so as not to risk missing a word. When he does speak, Jermay is commanding and sharp, but not without genuine warmth. He is the portrait of a man who Knows What He Is Doing, and his onlookers cannot help but be desperate to know too.

Most importantly, Jermay is right, and not just right but exhaustively so. Jermay does not just get a read on each of his chosen audience members, but does so with compelling, intimate depth. Unlike some of his profession, he does not shy away from giving actual advice on the paths that can be taken. He does not fear overstepping- after all, we did ask. His decision to engage so thoroughly allows him to be invested into the futures he predicts, and allows the rest of the audience to be as well. Jermay makes the lives of random strangers who happened to go to the same Fringe show as you as interesting as your own.

Luke Jermay does have a strange power, and few could predict the future as well as he. But one prediction can be made with total confidence by anyone who sees his show: Luke Jermay is only going to build on his already prodigious strengths, and be a household name before long.

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

ASHTON CARTER: MYSTERIOSA

In Ashton Carter’s Mysteriosa, he explores the stories of his family history through a series of illusions, both revisiting the mysteries of his ancestors lives and toying with the concept of reaching out to them, through Spiritualist practices, after their deaths.

The beginning of the Fringe can be a stressful time for performers. The material is often untested, the audiences unknown. For a magician, there comes an even more challenging twist to this anxiety: their audience is anxious too. Though you cannot go to a magic show and not expect the looming threat of having to participate, you do not know what form this participation will take. The audience depends on their magician to win- not quite their trust, but their support,  from the beginning moments, or else what’s left is difficult to salvage. Ashton Carter begins, and continues his show, visibly terrified by the situation at hand. His hands shake, his voice shakes, he gets tongue tied, and is seemingly at a loss for what to do from one moment to the next. This creates a sense of unease immediately that does not go away for the rest of the show.

The audience’s wariness of course is also reflected in a disinclination to interact. No one is inspired to want to take part, and those who ultimately do at Carter’s urging do so begrudgingly.  The only common feeling in the crowd is not captivation with the performer, but empathy for one’s fellow onlooker. At the performance reviewed, the show is stolen by a single crack by one audience member.  An entire Fringe show, and the sole highlight is a nervous joke by someone else who is also (maybe) paying to be there.

It perhaps goes without saying at this point, but the material itself is not strong. The illusions are tired, the story is tedious, and the climax cloying and out of place. Finally, there comes a baffling conclusion. Through most of Carter’s show, he has achieved a ineptitude that could and should, for the most part, be pitiable. However, he crowns the whole thing off by concept-dropping Christianity, both in a way where it cannot be argued that that is not what he meant, but where he was too cowardly to actually say ‘Jesus’ in a magic show. Because yes, if you start talking about Jesus in a magic show, 90% of the time unbelievers will be uncomfortable and believers will be offended. And taking into account Carter’s decision to use a deck of cards with an ethnic slur on them earlier in the show, Mysteriosa blows past ‘pitiable’ for a strong finish in ‘dreadful’.

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

MANDY MUDEN: IS NOT THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

☆☆

With her bold style and even bolder personality, Mandy Muden is anything but invisible.  Muden’s premise for “Is not the Invisible Woman” is that women “of a certain age” are overlooked often enough to feel invisible, and she has set out to prove that she, at least, still commands attention.

However, Muden is let down by her magic, which is often basic and clumsy.  Her tricks are at their best when she incorporates them into her overall performance, as this marginally raises the audience’s emotional investment.  A section illustrating a romantic relationship ending poorly using several bits of string shifts Muden’s performance to an unexpectedly melancholic tone, despite the maintenance of her playful character, but is a highlight in how she uses magic.

Perhaps ironically, Muden’s many jokes about and references to being a woman “of a certain age” get old fast, especially as they start to sound repetitive.  It is possible that viewers who feel like they fit in to the category that she describes would appreciate this element of her show a bit more, and that she intentionally caters to this audience.  She is at least consistent in maintaining her theme.

Muden develops a patchy relationship with her audience, teasing her participants  slightly more than necessary, even when the participant in question was visibly uncomfortable. She was lucky in that the majority of her participants responded well to this approach.  Her repeated instructions to get her male participants to weigh themselves to contribute numbers for part of her final reveal could be construed as commentary on social pressures on women’s bodies.  However, it is left to the audience to decide whether her method of making this point is too neglectful of the similar pressures on men’s bodies that may be relevant in the lives of her participants.

Muden has a solid goal in her show in demonstrating to the audience and perhaps also to herself that she is not limited by her age and gender.  Her execution may have a more niche appeal.  Nevertheless she certainly succeeds in her aim—in fact, it is difficult to imagine Muden ever being overlooked.

 

More information on Mandy Muden and her performance dates can be found here.

THE OPTICAL DELUSIONS

Performing in the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee was a homecoming show for magician Ben Seidman and juggler Marcus Monroe, who both come from and began their best friendship in the area. And truly they received a fitting welcome home from the crowd, who filled up the entire hall and seemed to feature a lot of family and friends of the two performers. But although they had the overwhelming support of their community, they far from need it to make The Optical Delusions a success. This show positively vibrates with infectious enthusiasm- for the skillful juggling and tricky magic demonstrated, and for the best friendship of Seidman and Monroe.

The Optical Delusions experienced by the crowd in Milwaukee must have been a unique experience from the rest of the tour, because it was absolutely teeming with Milwaukee and general Midwestern humor. Seidman and Monroe were overtly delighted to be among the only people who could appreciate this content, and so even seen through the eyes of a transplant to the area, every joke hit purely on the strength of their energy.

It’s impressive that two men the same age from the same area have both done so well in the variety performance world, although in different subsets of it. Magic and juggling make sense together if you squint and don’t think too hard about it, and it helps that so many performers who do one have also tried their hand at the other. But they really do require different talents even beyond just doing them – how to present the skills, how to interact with the audience while they do, and so on. And what is startling is how very, and equally, good Seidman and Monroe are in their respective arts.

Monroe is demonstrably aware that if you can juggle you can’t just juggle, that would get boring after a while. But juggling with a few smart jokes, a lot of endearingly dumb jokes, and a solid assist of audience involvement, turns his admirable skill into a show well worth watching. Seidman is a magician who should be paid a lot more attention to on a national or even international level. His attitude and showmanship are impeccably crafted, and he has found a way to make nearly every trick in his repertoire seem brand new and completely fresh- an almost impossible feat in such an old art.

Seidman and Monroe are at their best when they’re working together, a beautiful thing to be able to say about two ‘best friends’. It’s absolutely obvious that their partnership in this show isn’t just a gimmick; they have amazing chemistry that could only come from knowing, supporting, and building each other’s acts up for years. For the beginning, end, and flashes in between throughout The Optical Delusions, the two trade banter crackling with energy and experience, and play ‘straight man’, or the other way around, to the one who’s turn it is to do his bit. The construction of the show genuinely only falters when one is left alone on the stage. This is not to say either performer could not carry a one man show- they both could, and do outside The Optical Delusions. But the energy of this particular show changes too drastically when they aren’t both contributing, and it makes for a somewhat fractured experience. Fortunately, they’re back together in peak form by the finale, and blow any memories of lagging out of the audience’s minds. 

The Optical Delusions is a delightful show where the hilarious comedy almost distracts you from how good the magic and juggling actually are (but not quite).  And as an added bonus, it’ll make you really appreciate your best friend.

 

 

More information on Ben Seidman and Marcus Monroe and their future performance dates can be found here and here.