magic

KANE & ABEL: TWINPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Kane & Abel didn’t have to look too hard to find each other as their magic partners, they were lucky enough each have to have been born with the ideal magician with whom to share the stage. Twinpossible puts their sweet sibling relationship at center stage. They didn’t look far for their premise either, going for the theme of “twins” to loosely tie their tricks together. While the theme may be weak, more importantly their relationship and magical skills are strong.

The tricks that they perform are largely takes on the classics—for example a rope sequence with an extra long rope, or a card finding trick with an extra spectacular reveal. Each one is adjusted to fit their style, but even more cleverly, they take great advantage of having the both of them onstage. They don’t just play off each others’ energy, they have created versions of effects that could not be performed with just one magician. This helps set them apart as a bit more than just twins together onstage, it gives a bit of a bite to their act—although there are also moments where each performer is able to shine as an individual.

While many magicians developed their tricks over the lockdown, Kane & Abel seem to have more noticeably improved their storytelling. The magic is great too, but what jumps out this year is how well their effects are integrated into the little stories that they tell. It’s an interesting, welcome development, and definitely piques interest in continuing to follow their careers. Twinpossible is a fun lunchtime interlude at the Voodoo Rooms—in the lovely ballroom, the prime PBH venue. Even on weekdays the timing is great for both tourists and nearby office workers, and they will surely all enjoy watching Kane and Abel. 

More information on Kane & Abel and their performance dates can be found here.

CASPAR THOMAS: SLEIGHT OF HANDKERCHIEF

☆☆☆

In popular culture the “witching hour” is a dramatic time of night, midnight or shortly thereafter.  At the Fringe, on the other hand, the “witching hour” evidentially occurs around three or four PM—consistently the busiest couple of hours for magic shows.  So Caspar Thomas has his work cut out for him in getting people in to Sleight of Handkerchief.  The theme, of course, is the handkerchief, that vibrant and ubiquitous magic prop. 

As is expected given the theme, it’s a relatively old fashioned magic show.  This is not to its detriment, it’s the show’s niche in the Fringe magic ecosystem.  Good Omens fans, picture if Aziraphale used his celestial powers in that children’s birthday party scene and you’ll get a decent idea of Thomas’s magic style.  The multicolored scarves make for a visually pleasing experience, and Thomas is adept at putting them through their paces.  His range of tricks include the usual handkerchief effects, as well as many that he has adapted to make use of these pretty props. 

In a cozy venue and with Thomas’s kind demeanor, joining him onstage feels less like joining a performance and more like helping a pal demonstrate his cool skills.  Nothing remotely scary or onerous is asked of the participants, Thomas does all the work in this chill show.  Many audience members are able to join in from their seats as well, such as when Thomas brings out his big rings.  He asks a few people to give them a bit of a tug but when the magic happens it’s entirely in his hands. 

The audience knows what they’re going to get with a show called Sleight of Handkerchief, and Thomas delivers it well.  The relaxed atmosphere is very different from the high energy of, for example, a standard comedy magic show, and this is a nice change of pace at the busy Fringe.  Magic fans could do a lot worse. 

More information on Caspar Thomas and his performance dates can be found here.

PETE FIRMAN: BAG OF TRICKS

☆☆☆☆

Pete Firman has been working as a magician for an awfully long time.  His act has the pleasantly retro feel of grandma’s prized pyrex—perhaps at times it’s very obvious that it’s been around a while, but at the same time it’s aged so gracefully it’ll probably outlast us all.  In Bag of Tricks he operates under the fairly simple premise that it’s been a long lockdown and he has plenty of things he’d like to show an audience. 

Bag of Tricks is a bit of a misnomer, one of the first items that Firman brings out on stage is a large packing box, big enough to fit him like makeshift overalls as he stands inside it.  His relatable storytelling brings his tricks to life.  If a few of his jokes don’t quite land with every generation of the audience, he is quick to gloss over the moment and press on.  A highlight is when he leans in to his retro vibe in performing odd pointless parlor games that he perfected during lockdown.  It’s a nice break in the traditional magic while still showing off magic-adjacent skills of quickness and manual dexterity. 

Whether it’s due to his history of televised work or his preference for performing his show as half stand up comedy, half magic, Firman invites relatively few audience members to the stage.  With his larger than life performance, for much of the show he doesn’t really need the audience representative onstage to make the magic feel close to us.  However there does come a time when this is necessary, and he chooses well.  All of his participants at the reviewed show are great sports.  Firman generally treats them well in turn—when he gives one a hard time, immediately after he performs one of his prettier effects dedicated just to her. 

Firman’s act dovetails perfectly into current trends favoring upcycled found object maximalism, with his parlor game interludes and frenetic larger than life style.  It’s not at all surprising that he’s attracted a decent proportion of audience members who don’t understand some of his older references, magic aside the aesthetic alignment is there.  And his old fans certainly won’t be disappointed by Bag of Tricks.  Firman’s here for a good time and for a long time. 

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

THE MAGIC OF JIM

☆☆☆

They’ve let the resident Pleasance Courtyard magician indoors! Jim’s self-titled The Magic of Jim clocks in at just half the generally prescribed Fringe hour-long show. He runs through a few standard tricks, but what really stands out is Jim’s story of hustling his way in to the Fringe and enthusiasm for what he does. He’s still hustling, his name can be spotted as far afield as the cheeky “anti-Fringe” pop up along Leith Walk. Old habits die hard. Here at his home, the Pleasance, his series of tricks become a celebration of Fringe magic and and building the life you want through sheer tenacity.

Jim’s smaller size venue allows him to perform close up tricks to great effect. An early card finding trick gets a good slice of the audience involved, without singling anyone out too early on—participants are able to choose their card from their seat. The new indoor space and captive audience allows him space between tricks. Jim explores his philosophy of life through his Rubik’s cube, which he doesn’t even have to solve to impress his audience.

When it does come time to involve the audience more closely, Jim gets a good cross section of age range. His participants with larger roles are each rewarded for their efforts with a memento, an important factor to many magic attendees. A late afternoon show, at the show reviewed he attracted a crowd primarily of older folks and families with young children. It’s an enthusiastic audience, but as a veteran of the streets Jim doesn’t let any extraneous chatter deter him. Special kudos goes to the future mentalist in Jim’s audience, who managed to identify the reviewer for what she was as the crowd left the show. Based on his approximate age, the reviewer wouldn’t be surprised to find themselves reviewing him in about decade.

There are more elaborate magic shows at this Fringe, with more elaborate props, and certainly plenty that last a longer time. But Jim has his niche. If you’re in the area with a spare half hour before your next show his is the place to go to make the time pass quickly. You may be surprised by just how much you enjoy his work.

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

MAGICAL BONES: SOULFUL MAGIC

☆☆☆

In a way, Soulful Magic is the most classic magic show at the Fringe this year. If you’re looking for levitating ladies and exciting escapology this is the show for you. This is not the only factor that makes it feel unique. Magical Bones retains his status as the only break dancing magician performing at the Fringe, and the stories he tells, celebrating black culture through history and across the English speaking world, contextualize his act in both cultural heritage and modern representation.

Magical Bones is a whole circus in one man, and as far as this reviewer is concerned there is no higher compliment. He originally performed as a break dancer before getting in to magic, and luckily for his audience the break dancing is given equal billing in his show to this day. While this is not a dance review site, it is worth noting that the break dancing that Magical Bones performs would not look out of place in the break dancing/dance fusion shows at this year’s Fringe… except for the fact that at the same time he’ll find your card and solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s an exceptionally visually exciting form of magical reveal.

The magic itself is well done too. A highlight is a card finding routine set to a bespoke music track, it’s worth a ticket for that alone. The only slight mis-step came from a well-meaning audience participant misunderstanding her instructions and prompting an effect to be revealed a little bit early, but Magical Bones glossed over this with brisk professionalism. He is a charming performer and has a friendly rapport with all of the participants who join him onstage.

Through the celebration of black culture, fantastic magic, and incredible dancing, it is difficult to ignore a less fortunate magical stereotype that has crept in to the show. Building a show around breaking down barriers in magic while un-ironically introducing a female assistant to be levitated and magically dressed in a ballgown can feel little bit hypocritical. Women are hugely underrepresented in magic, and using the largely mute magician’s assistant role as just another trapping of a classic magic show can come across as regressive. 

Soulful Magic may feel like two steps forward, one step back in terms of diversity in magic, but it’s tough to be everything for everyone, and for its faults it’s still a fun show. It’s wonderful to see Magical Bones’s celebration of black magic so popular at this year’s Fringe, managing to sell out on one of the few warm, sunny weekend days in Edinburgh is no small feat. Blending street magic, classic stage magic, dance, and black culture makes for a show unlike anything else available.

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

CHRIS COOK: REFLECTIONS

☆☆☆☆☆

Chris Cook is a Free Fringe institution, now returned to his perennial late afternoon slot in the ballroom of the Voodoo Rooms, a PBH magic hub.  Like many of us, Cook has done some reflecting over the course of the pandemic.  Unlike most of us, he has transformed his ruminations in to a thoughtful and inspiring magic show, Reflections. 

For the repeat attendees in his audience the tricks and themes of Reflections may feel reminiscent of Cook’s past shows.  A few strong magical and emotional beats from 2017’s Control come through in particular.  Fans of Cook’s more meta work will also not be disappointed, as the show develops to touch on the unacknowledged energy that we share in in-person interaction through the lens of the relationship between a magician and their audience. 

The magic in Cook’s shows is always flawless.  A highlight of this year is a mentalist effect featuring a multicolored cube.  The first half of this is often performed in popular late-night mentalist acts, but here Cook adds a magic twist that keeps the audience on their toes.  The segment leading in to this, that began with a full audience participation, is a highlight as well.  This got several individuals fiercely competitive for the chance to join Cook onstage.  At the reviewed show Cook dealt with an unusually lively audience, but had little trouble maintaining control of the room. 

Cook’s brand of emotive magic is invariably an absolute delight.  His late afternoon shows are an invitation to consider your life, regardless of the title (“Reflections” of course openly encourages this), while watching some magic and listening to some stories.  If you’re open to it this will be a comfort—a sort of guided meditation with plenty of jokes and a sprinkling of magic.  Cook is gradually making the world a better place one audience at a time.  While he talks about how his audience can show their appreciation for his magic tricks, this is his biggest effect and it’s a shame that there’s no defined moment for him to appreciate it. 

It’s difficult to review Cook without sounding like a member of his cult, and perhaps it only makes it worse to say that if you attend his shows you’ll understand.  That being said?  This is definitely one to see.  His always are. 

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

TOMAS MCCABE: HOW TO READ MINDS

☆☆☆☆

Whether due to the late timeslot on a Friday evening, the gentle Irish accent, Tomas McCabe’s invitation to learn secret knowledge in How to Read Minds, or the appeal and reputation of the performer himself, McCabe was able to gather a huge crowd on the day that his Fringe show was reviewed.  A popular regular, McCabe’s audiences have evidentially not been diminished by the overall slowdown of this post-pandemic Fringe.  He demonstrated exactly how he earned this renown over the course of his hourlong show. 

The flipside of this success is that McCabe was at times faced with a merry mob of chatty revelers rather than a nicely attentive audience.  He dealt with this as well as could reasonably be expected of him, by ignoring the interruptions other than to drown them out by pushing on with his show.  Luckily thanks to his projection coupled with his tech assistant’s help those who wished to follow along were perfectly able to.  Said tech assistant incidentally also emerged over the course of the hour as the current most eligible bachelor of this year’s Fringe.  Ladies, contact McCabe for his number. 

McCabe demonstrated his mind reading techniques on both the audience as a whole and on a select few individuals who were invited up to the stage.  Each method was equally impressive in its own right.  A highlight involved the use of audience members’ anonymized secret confessions to aid in the demonstration.  McCabe teased his audience, but from a place of nonjudgement.  The purpose of the exercise, aside from learning techniques to help trick people in to thinking you could read their mind, was to create a space for everyone to freely express their errors in judgement without undue negative reaction.  The teasing tone was dependent on the subject matter, when McCabe came across a confession that a member of his audience was planning on coming out to his parents the next day McCabe was quick to wish him luck with the conversation. The only trick that McCabe missed was due to an inebriated would-be participant forgetting her role, which he laughed off without embarrassing her. 

McCabe is one of the more popular Fringe magicians and earns it all the more with every show.  For a fun bit of mentalism, Fringe audiences cannot go wrong with McCabe. 

More information on Tomas McCabe and his performance dates can be found here.

GRIFFIN AND JONES: IDIOT MAGICIANS

☆☆☆☆

The 2021 Fringe didn’t feel like a real Fringe, which at the time was easily attributed to the reduced size, prevalence of masks, and test and trace isolation guidelines.  In hindsight, however, it may have just been the absence of Griffin and Jones.  Whether through their slapdash magic or iconic 1AM cabaret, these two are innate to the spirit of the Fringe, and it is a joy to see them back.  Idiot Magicians is the perfect title for their show, and they do not disappoint, either with the magic or the exemplary displays of lighthearted idiocy. 

Griffin and Jones involve a variety of original props in their show, from a mind reading melon to a jar of jellybeans.  While their tricks often follow classic patterns, the manner in which they are presented are wholly their own.  It can be hard to review a show without spoiling it for readers, but it is difficult to imagine that Griffin and Jones would object to their future audiences hearing about the live dolphins that star in the second half of their show.  While animal use in magic shows has a dubious past, Griffin and Jones assure their audience that the dolphins are well cared for.  Bar staff at their venue have been heard to tell that if the dolphins choose not to perform Griffin and Jones replace their routine with a magical take on a striptease, described as weird but definitely magical and surprisingly sexy. 

Audience participants are similarly well treated.  Members of the audience may briefly feel the mock ire of Griffin and Jones on dropping a treasured prop, but all is rapidly assured to be in good fun.  The pair respond well to unexpected hiccups in their audience members.  At the reviewed show a participant forgot the card that she had chosen—surely a relatable moment for all who have participated in that capacity—and Griffin and Jones help her out without undercutting their reveal. 

In a world that often feels like it’s hurtling toward a smorgasbord of potential future apocalypses while simultaneously feeling stuck in time or even pulled backwards by the machinations of political elites, perhaps a little Idiot Magic is exactly what is needed.  Griffin and Jones teach their audience to find joy in the little idiocies of their magic, and to spread this idiocy and joy in their own lives. 

More information on Griffin and Jones and their performance dates can be found here.

AVA BEAUX: WHICH WITCH

☆☆☆☆☆

Ava Beaux makes a name for herself as a rare female magician, or “magish”, as she prefers to be called.  For reference for those who may be unfamiliar with the gender balance of magishes, out of a total of over fifty magic show listings in this year’s Fringe just two feature a female magish.  Percentage-wise this year is sadly probably one of the better ones, post-pandemic overall numbers are down and regardless of the total number of shows usually only two or three feature women as magishes.  If memory serves Ava Beaux herself was the only female magish at last year’s Fringe, participating virtually over youtube.  That being said, while she mentions this in Which Witch, this is not the point of the show nor why it is worth watching. 

Which Witch creates two characters out of the one performer, Ava and Beaux, and features their struggle for control.  Ava is the one who is recognizable as a conventional magish, while Beaux likes to wear extravagant hats and has trouble communicating with the default world.  In both personas Ava/Beaux performs excellent magic.  Appropriately, Beaux has a weirder take on tricks, which was wonderful to see—although it is perhaps worth noting that ethical vegans may prefer not to be Beaux’s audience participant.  Ava/Beaux relies primarily on sleight of hand, but it was Ava’s mind reading trick that got the biggest reaction on the evening of this review. 

Ava and Beaux each charm the audience in their own way.  Ava has her hilarious stream of stories that keep the audience laughing while marveling at her tricks, while Beaux’s unfettered delight at finding herself in the audience’s presence immediately wins us over, in spite of the warnings.  Neither one makes her audience participants feel unsafe in her presence; while Beaux is less predictable any potential for destruction is focused on her own props. 

The finale of the show is visually gorgeous, it is worth sitting through the show even if you hate magic for the chance to see the last few minutes.  The theme of finding the power to take control of your own healing from trauma caused by others is unexpectedly heartfelt, and appropriately timed for a world where both global events and political elites cause suffering that is often impossible for any ordinary individual to stop—but we can take control of our narrative. 

Ava Beaux’s longer term fans may have a different appreciation for Which Witch.  She has always been a storyteller, but here we see her put down literary inspiration and step in to her own story.  It has been a privilege to watch her grow in to her talents and hone her skills.  Those finding Ava Beaux for the first time this year may have to settle for a perfect, stunning magic show, but surely everyone who sees her will be excited to see what she does next. 

More information on Ava Beaux and her performance dates can be found here.

PETE HEAT: BLIMEY

☆☆☆☆

Pete Heat’s name is especially appropriate for the day that his Fringe show Blimey was reviewed.  August has been unusually warm, and another mini heat wave this week saw Gilded Balloon staff warning audience members about the heat in Heat’s room and handing out cups of water along the queue.  It was indeed especially hot, even for a Fringe venue, but with the fans kept running and Heat adjusting his volume to compensate the show was able to go on. 

The majority of the run time of the show was not taken up by magic, Heat mentions toying with the idea of turning to stand up comedy full time and it’s evident that he would have no trouble generating material.  This does not come across as a flaw.  The full effect of his comedy and the sprinkling of magic does not fail to entertain.  While most of the creativity of the show is focused on the trappings around the magic—Heat’s delightful stories and inventive comedy props—the magic that he does, which includes both sleight of hand and mentalism, feels freshened by Heat’s performance. 

In a crowded little room with a nearly sold out show it was difficult for Heat to get too much in to his audience, but he ensures that everyone can get involved from their seats.  Despite the full room, with his height and proximity to the seats Heat is able to ensure that his magic is visible to the entire audience.  A few individuals were invited to join Heat on stage to witness his magic up close, and seemed suitably impressed by the experience. 

One point in Heat’s monologuing that may come across as odd to the Edinburgh magic fan is that it is not possible to use magic as a form of self-expression the way you could with other art forms.  Contrary to this assertion, Heat is currently sharing the metaphoric stage of the Fringe with several masters of such emotive magic. It feels incorrect to point out this shortcoming in magic as a genre without acknowledging that there are a significant number who buck the trend, or joining them as an example of the range of possible magical performance.  With his creativity and skill this absolutely feels like a feasible route for Heat if it’s a direction that he is interested in going in. 

Heat’s blend of stand up and magic makes for an exceptional hour regardless of the weather.  The audience is left wanting more, more stories, more magic, more of Heat’s show, a sure sign that Blimey is worth a visit. 

More information on Pete Heat and his performance dates can be found here.