magic

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.

AARON CROW: FEARLESS

In Fearless, Aaron Crow performs an entire hour of dangerous magic, with few breaks for less scary effects.  It is in part a master class on the types of dangerous magic tricks that the audience might recognize as having been performed by other magicians, here done with Crow’s exemplary skill and distinctive style.

Through all of the danger, Crow is courteous to his audience participants.  They might briefly worry that they could cut themselves on the glass that he scatters on stage, the sword that he wields, or his perfectly chiseled cheekbones, but the vast majority are asked to take more supportive roles as Crow manipulates his dangerous props.  The few who are given more active roles look comforted by Crow’s quiet encouragement.

Crow fully commits to the aesthetic that he has chosen with his costume changes, set design, and clever use of lighting.  He has even perfected a characteristic style of movement to match and accentuate this.  Crow’s performance is almost dance-like as well as being magical.

Where such a show might falter would be in taking itself too seriously, leaving the contrived danger open to ridicule.  Luckily Crow embraces the inherent ridiculousness of his genre.  He performs silently to music, but his sly sense of humor shines through in his movements, especially in his direct interactions with his audience members.  This maintains audience engagement without relying on simply escalating the danger of the performance.  Crow certainly does this as well, but the multidimensional nature of his performance allows the danger escalation to come across as a choice rather than a transparent attempt to keep the audience’s attention.

Fearless is fantastic, but it is a very stylized take on a specific genre, which may limit its appeal.  That being said, even those who are not a fan of dangerous magic will see the delight in Crow’s wit and the flow of his movement, and could not fail to be touched by his charming finale.

 

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

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC IN A JIFFY

☆☆

As magic show themes go, Elliot Bibby’s for Magic in a Jiffy is the most instantly relatable.  Who among us has never had trouble with buying things online?  Bibby covers common pitfalls, from a late delivery delaying important plans and buying something that arrives looking not quite how you expect.

While many of Bibby’s tricks use techniques that fans of magic might find familiar, each one is impressively tailored to fit his theme.  Bibby reads minds using the names of large companies with a focus on those in the shipping industry—albeit with an anecdote about McDonald’s that much of the audience seems to have no idea how to respond to—and predicts a second participant’s random choice with the help of a magically speedy Amazon delivery.  This is even noticeable in the little moments.  Many magicians make the exact same joke about sniffing their markers, so Bibby’s take on this theme is a fun surprise and perfectly suits his onstage character.

At the show reviewed, Bibby unfortunately made an uncharacteristic number of slip-ups in performing his sleight of hand, that an observant audience member would not be able to help but notice.  This was perhaps simply due to illness; Bibby’s voice was noticeably hoarse.  However, aside from those issues, Bibby powered through with an admirable amount of energy.

Bibby interacts with his audience participants with care and respect.  One woman in particular was slightly distressed at the halfway point of a trick involving her bank card, and Bibby quickly switched off his microphone to reassure her.  While this did briefly interrupt the flow of the show, it is commendable that he valued an audience member’s emotional comfort over his own performance.  This moment cut through the stage presence to reveal Bibby as a genuinely good person.

Magic in a Jiffy is charming in its skillful construction and delightful in Bibby’s adept performance.  It is well worthwhile for good fun magic.

 

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

KEVIN QUANTUM: NEON FUTURE

☆☆☆☆

It is rare that a show literally starts with a bang.  It is unclear whether Kevin Quantum decided to use explosives in Neon Future specifically for this purpose or whether the bombs came to mind first, but he took full advantage of the opportunity that their involvement afforded him for an exceptionally exciting introduction.

The explosives set the tone for the show.  Quantum’s theme matches his title—the future—and from there his show explodes in all directions, encompassing everything from personal musings into the possibilities of a robotically enhanced humanity, the dialectic debate of destiny versus free will, The Matrix… and more typically magical pretensions to genuine clairvoyance.

Quantum is fantastically committed to this theme, altering every trick he performs to fit it.  A highlight in this respect is his version of the oldest trick in the world, which in Quantum’s world becomes a miniature futuristic teleportation device.  Quantum’s explanation of the history of the trick detracts from the moment ever so slightly, taking the audience out of the moment, but in fairness this is in keeping with the capricious nature of the flow that Quantum cultivates.

The audience has a high proportion of children, and Quantum is excellent in working with them.  He makes a point to involve them in the show, often selecting his participants entirely from the children of the audience, and tries to involve as many of the enthusiastic volunteers as is feasible.  On the other hand, there are points in the show where it is best to minimize child involvement, especially the sections involving the explosives, and Quantum makes the responsible decision to choose adult participants at these times.

Neon Future often feels like it is going in every direction, all at once, so it is impressive that Quantum makes it feel like a cohesive show.  This is perhaps in part him embracing that his early evening time slot and nominally semi-educational theme means that he might regularly attract a younger audience, and tailoring his act to suit those tastes.  And even adults can appreciate the childlike joy of watching things go boom.

 

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

TOM BRACE: BRACE OF SPADES

☆☆

Brace yourself (sorry), Tom Brace’s show Brace of Spades is a whirlwind of fun, playful energy. Brace is a cheerful, exuberant performer whose enthusiasm is a solid match for the family demographic that one can expect at an afternoon magic show. Accordingly, while the show lacks a certain degree of cohesiveness or polish, it is bright and exciting for the youngest elements of the crowd.

Brace performs classic magic effects, but makes them fresh with his own effusive nature. Brace understands that in family magic in particular, the audience does not so much care about him- for an older audience the character of the magician is often an important element of the narrative, but when mostly focusing on children- well, they just want to see the magic. So while Brace’s presentation lacks in the personal, it is because it doesn’t have to.

The tricks themselves are performed with faultless dexterity, and Brace excels at sleight of hand. He also has, for the most part, a charmingly silly banter with the audience. The one occasional misstep in this is his attempt to keep enough cheek in so the adults in the room don’t get bored. At best, jokes about the women brought up for audience participation can be cute enough at first, but become repetitive to the point of irritating as they are recycled several times throughout the show. At worst, they are even unnecessary, as Brace is much more adept at the wholesome chat, and the cheek often seems forced in the first place.

But Brace has enough charm to keep the audience on board, as evidenced by one particular moment of the performance reviewed. At one point, Brace has an audience member on stage who is expected to try to call a friend or family member, live and onstage. Unfortunately, a lot of people are busy in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the participant struggled to do so- but despite this set up taking near twenty minutes when it seems to have probably been planned to last about two, Brace never lets the moment lag, and every attempt and failure is made to be a great source for comedy and audience empathy.

Brace of Spades is a fast-paced and silly magic show, perfect for a family afternoon out.

 

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