Every year, the Fringe features an overwhelmingly gigantic array of shows. While in the wake of the pandemic it has fallen slightly short of the record, from the individual perspective this year feels no different. If you venture off the beaten path to a venue that is new this year, perhaps to a late night show on a Monday evening, you may end up the sole audience member at your chosen event. If you’re lucky the performer will deal with this as gracefully and professionally at Professor Novak in Professor Novak’s Bizarre Tales. Staged in a disused section of the Omni Centre (one of the cooler PBH venues this year) at a relatively late time slot, it stands to reason that Professor Novak sees a slump in attendees on an evening early in the work week. However, this is a shame, as his Bizarre Tales are well thought through and performed with enthusiasm, regardless of the audience size.
These tales are loosely tied together by the character of Professor Novak, who guides the audience through his mystical curiosities. It’s a magic show, and magic tricks are employed as evidence of the mysterious properties of these objects, but what sets this show apart is the storytelling, which draws the audience in to the world that Novak creates. While a couple of prop issues keep it from perfection, the audience barely notices or minds. Psychic cards, boards that communicate with the spirit realm, and mystical boxes serve to highlight key moments in the tales. It ends on an interesting, original note that subverts the expectations of even frequent attendees of magic shows, and especially admirably, comes to a satisfying conclusion without the cliched reveal that the magician knew everything that happened before it did.
Even while maintaining a slightly zany character, Novak does not come across as threatening to his audience, and even manages to build a good rapport through the eccentricities of his persona. He uses the roles of participants to uplift the audience in addition to the traditional eyes of the public up close to the trick. This is a different challenge with just one audience member, but not necessarily an easier one, and Novak rises to it with apparent ease.
Professor Novak’s Bizarre Tales has evidentially been underrated as at the evening of the reviewed performance. It’s one of the better scripted magic shows, performed very enthusiastically regardless of audience size, and definitely deserves a larger audience. While perhaps not one for those who value a magic show based on concentration of tricks, it’s great for those who want to listen to spooky stories, with the odd magical twist.
More information on Professor Novak and his performance dates can be found here.