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NEIL KELSO: SOUNDS IMPOSSIBLE – A MUSICAL MAGIC SHOW

☆☆☆☆

Magicians are inherently nerds, regardless of whether or not they lean in to it in their shows. In the more interesting shows they might reveal their nerdiness about something other than magic, and Neil Kelso does in Sounds Impossible: A Musical Magic Show. His discussion of musical theory will probably be new to just about everyone in the audience, even those of us who learned piano casually as children. While the magic is itself impressive, it is a secondary aspect of the performance, enhancing the discussion and performance of music. This is to Kelso’s benefit, setting him apart and making for an especially interesting show.

The magic starts classically and visibly, with a trick that happens both in Kelso’s hands and in the hands of his audience members. However, a highlight of the show is the perfect combination of the musical and magical aspects in a card finding effect that uses the piano to find the cards. An audience member in the front row of the reviewed show had a satisfying reaction as the magic revealed itself, gasping loudly and clutching her partner’s arm. Seeing that Kelso can provoke this reaction in his audience is a reminder to frequent magic show attendees of how it feels to see these incredible feats for the first time.

Kelso evidentially knows at least as much about the history of pianos and music as he does about magic, and it’s great to get to hear some of this knowledge from him. He covers everything from historical differences in tuning standards—listing a few famous composers and describing how the instruments of their day would be tuned higher or lower than the one he plays on—to the effects of air pollution and recent research in to how to potentially counteract it, for example how living under a flight path might affect people. The magic draws people in, but once they are there they may wish that more of the performance were dedicated to this musical education.

Sounds Impossible: A Musical Magic Show does indeed sound impossible at first, but Kelso pulls off the premise and more. With a broad appeal, he gets people from both sides—impressing the magic fans with his breadth of music knowledge and the music fans with the magic tricks. He has a pretty universal appeal. Fans of either aspect of his performance will be sure to see something new.

ALEX KOUVATAS: SOMETHING IS MISSING

☆☆☆

The 2021 Fringe didn’t feel like a real Fringe, and there is a noticeable trend of some performers re-doing their prior shows for those who missed them last year. Alex Kouvatas joins them with his 2021 debut, Something is Missing. If he is a bit less popular this year it is probably because he was so popular last year, Edinburghers and regular Fringe-goers will have already seen him, plus apparent venue troubles may have resulted in difficulty in finding him. However, for those who manage to seek him out it is worth the effort.

With a small audience at the reviewed show, Kouvatas was able to get everyone involved. The first participant in particular was especially excited to join him, waving to her friends and posing for their cameras. The effect that she was involved in is a highlight, showcasing Kouvatas’s excellent ability to weave his tricks in to stories—in this case a magical, non-threatening take on William Tell shooting an apple off of someone’s head. While there is less of a theme running through the show this year, which is missed, that storytelling remains a strong point.

With his venue change, and falling victim to the small audience plague that is running rampant throughout this year’s Fringe, one would think that Kouvatas had more than enough misfortune to deal with. However, unfortunately at the reviewed show he also had trouble with his table, which dramatically broke part of the way through the show. He managed to play this off admirably well—the audience seemed to half expect him to wave a plastic wand and the table would restore itself. However, it was just a misfortune. Aside from the incident itself the show did not appear to suffer for the lack of the table.

Despite the misfortune surrounding this year’s iteration of Something is Missing, Kouvatas’s passion and showmanship shine through. He has clearly been hard at work, he no longer has to refer to a script and has a more consistently strong transition between tricks. While the theme and ideas behind the prior iteration are missed, these may be a casualty of the troubles Kouvatas faced this year. The overall improvement in his performance is noticeable. The show reviewed was towards the end of this year’s Fringe, but hopefully he has better luck next year.  Kouvatas deserves to reach a wider audience.

JAMES PHELAN: THE GREATEST MAGICIAN

☆☆☆

Magicians like to give the impression that they control every last second of their shows, but the one thing that they can never fully control is their audience. On the day that The Greatest Magician was reviewed James Phelan spent a lot of his time playing whack-a-mole with unruly audience participants. His crowd control was a bit hit or miss, if he was a little sharp with the odd individual the audience as a whole generally felt that they deserved it, this did seem to affect the kind of people who volunteered to join him, which may have exacerbated the issue. Nevertheless, through all of this Phelan managed to keep the audience on his side and get through a series of impressive tricks.

The audience management was probably the more impressive feat. Phelan had audience participants misunderstanding his instructions, he invited up wannabe comedians… it was the full range of troublesome participants. While getting understandably a bit annoyed at first, by the end of the show he was handling this with grace. He allowed the self-appointed comedian to tell his joke, “I went in to a spaghetti restaurant and tried to steal some spaghetti, but there was a security guard and I couldn’t get pasta”, before inviting him to leave the stage. And he ran through as many participants as necessary for his initial card trick, patiently waiting to find enough participants sober enough to help him out—surprisingly a difficult task on a Friday afternoon (you can add in a joke about Scottish drinking culture if you’d like).

Magically, Phelan describes the inspiring influence of his uncle, Paul Daniels. His adorable childhood photos are a highlight regardless of whether or not the viewers previously knew of Daniels. Hearing about a magician’s childhood inspiration to perform magic is not unusual, but the way Phelan connects it to his tricks is especially satisfying. Phelan’s trick involving making his participants forget how to read is fun to watch.  However, after he follows it up with a story about performing this effect on a teacher who told him he would never make it as a magician the audience surely appreciates it even more. 

Whether or not Phelan is truly The Greatest Magician is up for the audience to decide, but he is definitely a resilient performer.  Managing to keep his show on track in spite of numerous attempts to derail it, however lightheartedly, can not be easy.  Phelan will impress his audience no matter how much they might try to resist. 

ARRON JONES: ONE HOUR STRAIGHTJACKET ESCAPE MAGIC SHOW

☆☆☆☆

Arron Jones performs a few pieces of scary magic in his One Hour Straightjacket Escape Magic Show, but perhaps the scariest feature is how much of the show is left in the hands of his audience participants. This presents an interesting unstated theme. Like all magicians Jones presumably put a lot of effort in to creating this show, and from the start he places his trust in these strangers—albeit strangers who wandered in to the back of a pub just to see him—to carry out the bulk of the fulfillment of his creation. It’s a kind of wholesome, calculated laziness.

The only people who will be disappointed with this show will be those who genuinely wanted to watch a man struggle to escape a straightjacket for a full hour—while Jones does eventually make his way out, the majority of the hour is spent with him apparently content to be tied up. Those of us hoping for creatively themed magic under this unusual self-imposed restriction will have no complaints.

By and large Jones’s trust in his audience is justified. Anyone who has tried to talk someone else through a new task will know the sheer variety of unpredictable ways that people mess up at unfamiliar instructions, and Jones does indeed come up against this—early on in the reviewed show. He deals with this well enough, not breaking character, and the participant in question both has a good time and eventually figured out how to do the task requested of him.

A highlight is a card trick that culminates in an assisted striptease for an exciting reveal. The participant chosen for this looked thrilled to be helping him. Like most of us, she had been enjoying Jones’s custom music that accompanied a lot of his set up and transition times, and her visible enthusiasm made her a fantastic choice to share the stage with him.

The risk of going to a show titled as One Hour Straightjacket Escape Magic Show is that it turns in to a repetitive rehashing of the magician escaping from various binds. Jones does not fall in to this category, instead having put together one of the most creative of the magazine-style magic shows at this fringe. The straightjacket restricts his movements but he more than rises to the challenge. This is the magic show to see if you think you’ve seen it all.

MAGIC GARETH’S MAGIC EYE

☆☆☆☆

The Edinburgh-renowned Magic Gareth managed all but a full house on a sunny Edinburgh Sunday morning—the first magical feat of the reviewed performance of Magic Gareth’s Magic Eye. The one potential critique of the show is both immediately obvious at the start of the show while not being at all his fault, that due to the shape of the stage and audience layout individuals who chose to sit at the far edges are unable to see Gareth on stage. There is a brief moment of shuffling around when he first comes on, and future audiences are advised to arrive early and get central seats. That being said, the rest of the show—the bits that Gareth has control over—are difficult to fault. Even the smallest members of his audience are happily engaged for the full hour.

Gareth’s magic and child-friendly stunts consistently amaze, and get the whole audience involved. His fun take on Russian roulette culminates in a surprise that, from personal experience, is a refreshing treat for a hot summer day. And when he has an extra special prop to show off he makes sure to run around the whole audience so that everyone gets a chance to touch it. This prop’s use results in one of the visual highlights of the show, featuring Gareth using a hilarious makeshift blindfold to show off his skills without using sight. Cameras came out up and down the audience as everyone wanted their memento.

Given his reputation as a children’s performer it would be expected that Gareth is good with the children in his audience, and he is indeed great with them. He involves the little ones at every possible opportunity, making them feel important without giving them anything too taxing or stressful to do. His final words onstage are especially sweet for the kids, making sure that every single person in his audience leaves the show feeling special.

Magic Gareth is so well known as a children’s performer that even us Edinburghers without children of our own have often heard of him, and in Magic Gareth’s Magic Eye he more than lives up to his reputation. Children’s entertainment doesn’t get much better than this.

More information on Magic Gareth can be found here.

CAMERON GIBSON: MYSTERIES; AN HOUR OF IMPOSSIBILITIES

☆☆☆☆

If previous years’ trends are anything to go by, Fringe goers love watching a beautiful and stylish Scottish mentalist read people’s minds.  For all in search of this, Cameron Gibson is the mentalist to go to this year.  There is more to recommend him than just physical beauty—he is also a funny and compelling performer.  In his wordily titled Mysteries; An Hour of Impossibilities Gibson displays a well structured mentalist show. 

Gibson does not limit himself to mentalism, opting for a classic cup and ball to get the show going, to great success.  A few tipsy audience members who had wandered in apparently entirely aware of what they were getting themselves in for could be heard commenting that Mysteries; An Hour of Impossibilities was already the best show they had seen this year as Gibson set his cup and ball to the side.  The one slight hiccup came in his transition to the more mentalism-themed part of the show, when a supposedly suggestible participant was slightly less suggestible than expected, but Gibson did not miss a beat, and her initial hesitation only made the second step of Gibson’s work with her that much more impressive. 

However the main event is Gibson’s mind reading using personality questionnaires that he had asked the audience to fill in immediately on entering the venue.  The quasi-psychological twist of using personality tests rather than just random bits of information adds interest.  Gibson outlines the personality types of his participants based on their responses, in what he freely admits are horoscope-level generalizations, before accurately mind reading more specific details.  The range of information gleaned and individuals read made for an exciting final segment. 

With a convenient  pre-dinner time slot at the ever popular Voodoo Rooms Gibson is this year’s must-see for the Fringe’s mentalism fans.  An hour in his affable company will only leave audiences wanting more. 

More information on Cameron Gibson can be found here.

IMPOSSIBLE! WITH BRENDON PEEL

☆☆☆

If magic is known for anything other than the tricks, it’s the bad jokes that make audiences groan until they reluctantly laugh. Brendon Peel, in Impossible! With Brendon Peel got the memo loud and clear, with an impressive stream of jokes that are absolutely terrible in the absolute best way. Impossible! Is an intentionally hodgepodge show, as Peel explains at the start that his aim is to give the audience a taste of each of the genres of magic, from sleight of hand to mind reading. The audience gets a glimpse of an apparently sweet and supportive friendship with fellow magician Tomas McCabe, who Peel points out at the back of his audience as the one to see for those who especially enjoy his mentalism section. But for an overview of magic, Peel is the one to see.

A highlight of the tricks on offer is Peel’s card finding trick. At the reviewed show the participant brought up to help with this was a young boy who looked thrilled to have been invited to share the spotlight. Peel is great with the kids in his audience, going out of his way to involve them all in his act—which is not explicitly geared toward children but is family friendly. Peel’s card finding trick was elevated by its callback to the first mind reading trick of the show, adding an unexpected extra reveal.

This first trick incidentally was a longer-form reveal that many magicians use as a grand finale. Its placement at the start of the show is an early indication of Peel’s skill and justified confidence in his act. Like the acrobats who jump straight in to a three-high tower in their opening number, he lets the audience know that they don’t need to wait until the end to be impressed, the entire show is on that higher level.

Impossible! With Brendon Peel is a perfect introduction to magic for all ages, and his excellent showmanship makes it fun for seasoned magic fans as well. His limited Fringe run is already proving popular, with a busy audience for his first weekend. He can only get more popular as word of his abilities spreads.

More information on Brendon Peel can be found here.

MAGIC ROMAN’S SUMMER HOLIDAY

☆☆☆

Magic Roman immediately grabs the attention of the children in his audience—and many of the adults—with his lovely bubbly coffee mug at the very start of Magic Roman’s Summer Holiday. The pretty bubbles are equally lovely to see and engaging for the children, several of whom reach out to bat them out of the air. Roman here establishes the pantomime-esque atmosphere, welcoming kids’ verbal contributions to the show. It all makes for an excellent lunchtime destination for young families.

As an adult, magically Roman is a bit of a mixed bag. He does not shy away from tricks and props that will only appeal to children, a point in his favor given his target audience, but perhaps worth noting for their attending parents. And this does not mean that there is nothing to keep the adults engaged, he earns their applause too—especially with his mind reading style trick that had a fun twist for all the age groups. Roman rounds out his entertainment value with a few original songs themed on his holiday, great transition pieces that feel a step up from the usual practice in magic shows of playing a recording of music in such transitory periods instead. He has a multitude of talents.

Kids and adults are all invited onstage, and Roman is great with both. The kids in particular are encouraged in their adorable interactions with him at all times. His cutest exchange comes from an effect with a paper bag. The kids’ increasing frustration at Roman’s misinterpretation of their requests was rewarded, eventually, with an exciting reveal that stunned them in to silence. Entertainment aside, he does a great job of encouraging the kids to get rid of excess energy through dancing and screaming, surely a welcome addition to the show in their parents’ eyes.

Magic Roman’s Summer Holiday is excellent children’s entertainment. The show is primarily geared toward their little ones but the adults will undoubtedly find joy in it as well. As at the reviewed show it appears to be under-appreciated, but for the group it’s geared toward it’s well worth the visit.

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

TOM BRACE: EMBRACE THE IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆☆

Tom Brace: Embrace the Impossible is a truly all-ages show. There’s the brightly colored props and exciting flashy effects to keep the kids entertained, and a pleasant nostalgia-fest for us adults—for those of us around Brace’s age, harkening back to a time when we were children ourselves, before we were fully aware of the often disastrous state of the world. The nineties theme runs throughout the show, which goes by quickly. Brace brings plenty of excitement to keep the audience interested.

It is not often that a magician who faces the sheer number of issues outside of his control that Brace faced on the day that this show was reviewed turns this in to such a positive. People both arrived and left late, and he could not have been more graceful about this, allowing both sets of individuals to run across his stage to get to and from the exit efficiently. Brace also had to deal with a dodgy microphone, which turned in to a lovely moment when his friend and techie joined him onstage to fix it. Sadly it did not last, and Brace eventually gave up on the microphone, but with his projection the whole audience could easily still hear him. He did not miss a beat through dealing with all this—perhaps a more impressive skill than any of the magic.

That being said, the magic was excellent as well. A card trick themed on Who Wants to be a Millionaire was a highlight of the show reviewed, with an enthusiastic participant (the very same lady who arrived late carrying two pints) who was happy to let Brace work his way through her phone book to find a friend who would pick up when she called. They found someone, in the end, leading to a much anticipated reveal, although with the onstage chemistry between Brace, his participant, and even her offstage friends, no one in the audience minded the extra long build up.

Just off bustling Bristo Square, Embrace the Impossible in Brace’s fantastic company is a great way to spend an hour of the Fringe, especially but not exclusively for those of us who remember the nineties. It may not be the kind of show that ordinarily comes with a lesson, it’s more of a good time show. However, the reviewed show certainly did—that if you can accept the uncontrollable problems in your life and make the best of it, you may just end up even more memorable than if you get caught up in trying to be perfect. Brace’s audience can safely expect a great show regardless of how much goes wrong around him.

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

MISS MAGIC

☆☆☆

Staged in one of the wee cabins tucked away in a disused section of the Omni Centre, Miss Magic, who introduces herself as Kay, is a hidden gem. From the start she establishes herself as one of the most interesting magicians at this year’s Fringe. Most magicians describe their journey to magic as a childhood obsession turned unexpected career path. Kay, on the other hand, used to be a professional trapeze artist, and only became a magician as an adult when an injury forced her retirement from the circus. While her life stories are told more as a way to introduce herself to the audience than as an integrated feature of the magical performance, the magic that she performs is to a high standard.

Kay uses a variety of sleight of hand magic and mentalism throughout her act. One magic effect stands out in particular, as it’s essentially the same effect as performed by a magician at this Fringe in one of the larger venues (albeit with distinct styles) and the Miss Magic version comes across as much more impressive. Her mentalism as well is difficult to find fault with. It’s definitely  a magazine sort of show, with little to connect the tricks beside Kay’s flow of patter, but the pieces themselves are great.

The audience feels integrated at every turn. Kay developes a strong relationship with the audience, she could probably hold their attention with stories about her life alone. With the relatively small venue size the majority of the audience could be included as participants in the tricks, and Kay takes full advantage, pulling from every group in the seats at least once. Leaning in to her femininity without relying on it, she is a welcoming presence on stage, occasionally poking fun at her audience as magicians do but all in good fun.

As one of the two female magicians at this year’s Fringe, Kay is set apart by that alone, but Miss Magic is worth a visit more for her skill and style. She has a central venue at a perfect time for after work drinks—an ideal combination. Go have fun watching this cool lady do her thing.

More information on Miss Magic and her performance dates can be found here.