Chris Cook mentions in his show that this is his fifth year at the Fringe. Chance is undeniable proof that he’s not only not lost his charm, but is only getting better with experience. Cook is the model of a modern magician in his open affect and obvious affability. Not a magician here to trick you- well, yes, here to trick you, but not to taunt you with it. It’s clear that Cook sees his attendees not just as people for him to fool but as people to invite to an opportunity of wonder, to imagine a life with less repetitive drudgery and more delight.

It’s apparent immediately that Cook puts his volunteers at ease, an impressive feat when pulling them out of the safety and anonymity of the audience to stand on stage in front of everyone and do something they haven’t prepared for. But he instructs well, doesn’t mock, and is quick to make himself the butt of any joke before subjecting his volunteers to it. This has the secondary effect of endearing the rest of the audience to him (because who knows who could be next?) and, combined with his honest humor and breathless exuberance, creates a great atmosphere for the show.

Cook doesn’t shy away from anything that would make his magic relatable to his audience, and in Chance this involves political content. Implying a political stance in a magic show at the Fringe can be risky- your audience probably didn’t come expecting it the way they could for theatre or comedy, and it’s unlikely that at least some of them don’t strongly disagree with you. Due to a slight but noticeable muting of the audience’s good cheer surrounding his political content, it’s possible that this choice is occasionally having a real effect on Cook’s show. But a magician is not a vehicle for illusions, they should have principles and ultimately this political engagement is a daring and admirable choice. Cook proves that magic doesn’t have to be a frozen moment of late 19th/ early 20th century “golden age” that so many magicians like to hearken back to and romanticize, but instead can thrive as a sharp, to the point engagement with politics and his audience’s anxieties. Never faltering or losing a beat of his abounding charisma, Cook can dip into places more vulnerable, more uncertain, more real- and takes his audience with him.

Cook illustrates in Chance the breadth of possibilities of magic; the stories and situations and emotions that can engage with it. His magic enlivens his audience and makes them receptive to his finale- his encouragement and inspiration to breathe, to let their defenses fall, and to remember their basic human connection. Chance is not only a fantastic magic show to experience Cook’s impressive skills and great humor, but a reflection on our unbreakable capacity for wonder and hope, despite it all.


Chris Cook can be found at the Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 15:10 from August 16-26

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




The aesthetic atmosphere of the basement of Cabaret Voltaire is exactly what one would want and expect from a show that promises “spooky mind reading and Victorian spirit theatre.” Unfortunately, the dark, musty, and legitimately cobwebbed room is the only aspect in which Phantasmagorical excels.

Phantasmagorical is described in its’ Fringe listing as having magic and storytelling. And indeed it does have both. However, while it is possible to integrate these things well, Phantasmagorical does not do so. There is a story in Phantasmagorical. It is a stereotypical spooky Victorian story, with creepy dolls and a ghostly friend and an asylum. The story doesn’t come across as particularly well thought out, isn’t particularly compelling and has no dramatic tension or emotional payoff to speak of, but it exists. There is also magic in Phantasmagorical. It is not particularly well performed, but it is there. But even with these two elements definitely present, they only make each other worse by being clumsily forced together. The magic tricks do not integrate into the story well at all, they seem tangentially connected at best and distract from an already choppy plot. At times, it feels like the author and performer, Sylvia Sceptre, knew what she wanted in the storytelling and forced in the first trick she could think of that was sort of related. At other times, it seems she knew what trick she wanted to perform and forced the story to allow it to fit in, regardless of whether that would be an organic twist.

With Phantasmagorical already suffering from a clunky and fragmented concept, it’s also unfortunate that it was simply ill-performed. The storytelling was overacted with unnerving affect, Sceptre seemed unprepared to handle interacting with the audience, and there were several obvious flubs in the magic tricks that she didn’t recover from quickly. The whole event came across as painfully awkward and under-rehearsed.

There aren’t many female magicians at the Fringe, and it’s great to see one working on and developing a unique act with a decent concept. However, Phantasmagorical is in definite need of further development, both in content and in performance.


Phantasmagorical can be found at Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire (Venue 338) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 12:15 from August 15-26

More information on Sylvia Sceptre and her performance dates can be found here


Michael Brandie opens Bizarre by saying that he was shunned from the mind reading community for doing magic, and from the magic community for doing mind reading. This might sound a little bit odd to anyone who has just spent a week at the Fringe watching magic shows, as many incorporate elements of both mind reading and sleight of hand, which may be what Brandie is referring to when he says “magic”. However, while he does do some mind reading, Brandie’s focus is primarily the types of magic tricks that might be classed as dangerous stunts, or perhaps “scary magic”.

A theme of Bizarre is Brandie’s love for old films, he uses film names in mind reading tricks and references films in the set-up for many of his stunts. This does not put off viewers who are unfamiliar with his favorite films, as he explains all of his references thoroughly enough for his audience to understand them. However, it adds an extra level of engagement for film fans in the audience, and even for those who are not in the know it is lovely to see that added personal element give flavor to the show.

Brandie’s stunts are varied, covering a range designed to inspire disgust and alarm in the audience. Some start nice and peaceful before Brandie begins the scare tactics, while others are unapologetically frightening from the start. These are fantastic from a performance perspective. Brandie is reassuring enough at the start of each trick that the audience becomes reasonably certain that he is in no life threatening danger, only to perform stunts dangerous enough that they doubt their former certainty.

Live theater can be unpredictable, especially live theater that requires audience participation, and Brandie encountered such an unpredictability this evening when one of his participants was unwilling to come up on stage. Brandie dealt with this well, performing the effect in a way that allowed this participant to remain in her seat. Such respect for his audience’s boundaries was especially reassuring in this danger-driven show.

Brandie is great at what he does in Bizarre, and this type of scary magic surely has its niche in the magical community. For those that enjoy the bizarre, even at its most disgusting or frightening, Brandie’s Bizarre is the place to be.


More information on Michael Brandie and his performance dates can be found here


Kevin Quantum studied physics before he became a magician, and in Vanishing Point he explores the magical niche that he has created by combining his passion for both subjects. The stage is physically dominated by an enormous harmonic pendulum of his own creation that both starts and ends the show. Watching this pendulum in motion at the start of the show is a lovely meditative highlight. In between showing off his pendulum, Quantum performs his array of magic tricks with the theme of making things vanish.

One of Quantum’s primary sub-themes is the Bermuda triangle, famous for making ships, planes, and people mysteriously disappear. Quantum spends a fair amount of time setting up this theme, telling the audience about some of the better known anecdotes and even playing an audio clip from a plane right before it went missing in the triangle. His method of incorporating the theme into his magic tricks is appropriately cheeky for a magic show.

Loss of privacy and the increasing power of technology over humanity, another one of Quantum’s sub-themes, is much more timely, and potentially much more interesting. This time his cheeky nod to theme in the subsequent magic tricks is more of a build up to the big finish—it may feel underwhelming at first, but by the end of the show it proves fittingly impactful. Quantum circles back to his gigantic gadget, using the meditative qualities of his harmonic pendulum to make his point about the importance of living in the moment.

The foundation of Vanishing Point is in hybrids, as Quantum describes himself as a hybrid scientist-magician, and incorporates both magic tricks and scientific demonstrations into this show. Quantum takes this a step further in blending the tone of the show. It is both fun and lighthearted in turns and a bit more serious in others, but does not fully commit to either approach. The lighthearted bits at the beginning still have the dark undertones of death from the Bermuda triangle theme, and the delivery of the sincere message at the end still feels more like a stunt than a moral. This is not detrimental to the overall effect of the show, and feels on brand for Quantum, who has built his magical persona on hybridization.

Vanishing Point is creatively themed and well put together, and well performed in Quantum’s distinctive style. The creative emphasis is decidedly on the theme and non-magical props rather than the tricks themselves, but given the multi-faceted nature of the show this is not too noticeable. Vanishing Point is well worth a visit for those looking for see magic tricks presented in an inventively scientific format.


Kevin Quantum can be found at Underbelly Bristo Square during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 18:45 from August 12-20, 22-26

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


Adam Patel has chosen the classic theme of his own life story, for his show Brown Magic, and the development of his interest in magic. Patel uses his magic tricks to complement and illustrate the stories that he tells. His anecdotes and jokes do often use stereotypes, but he does not rely on stereotypes to get cheap laughs, rather he uses them in his own original manner. Patel’s magic tricks are likewise well performed and effectively used.

Brown Magic began with Patel offstage, directing audience participants through a first trick using his voice alone. This did run into a slight speed-bump, through no fault of Patel’s own, as the participant chosen to read the denouement of this trick had to run back to her seat to get her reading glasses, but Patel dealt with this well, making sure that the audience was entertained and his participant felt comfortable. Patel’s expert handling of the situation turned a potential blunder into charming introduction, ensuring that by the time he physically stepped on stage the audience was already on his side.

Patel’s main sleight of hand trick is performed alongside his story of trying to impress a childhood crush with magic. This story certainly increases the audience’s sympathy for Patel. His well executed trick brings the mood back up, as he demonstrates both his recovery from childhood disappointment and his increased magical skills as an adult.

Patel’s take on mind reading is interesting and modern, as he bases one of his mind reading demonstrations on Tinder, and, for another, uses an app of his own design. The latter is used especially creatively, although it is definitely for the best that Patel specifies at the start of this segment that he wants an audience participant who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Patel’s final trick is similarly creative, imbuing magical tropes with his own unique flavor.

Brown Magic is solidly entertaining. Patel uses his life story to create his particular take on magic very effectively. While many of his magic tricks are fairly standard, Patel performs them well, and uses them in an interesting manner over the course of the stories that he tells.


Adam Patel can be found at Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 18:40 until through August 12th. 

More information on Adam Patel and his performance dates can be found here


Colin Cloud begins Psycho(logical) by saying that as, in this show, he will be discussing us, the audience, it is really our own fault if we do not like it.  This sets the tone perfectly—Cloud maintains that ominous and facetious balance steadily for the duration of the show.  Cloud consistently astounds his audience with his mind reading tricks, and uses both classical and unusual techniques for scary magic to great effect.

The first half of Psycho(logical) is more expected magical fare.  The audience files in to find Cloud already on stage, taking notes, but his condition quickly evolves into an escape artist themed situation.  Cloud’s calm demeanor throughout his change in situation could be interpreted two ways, either that he is confident in his control over his show, or that his tranquility when facing apparent death does indicate that he is, as the title of is show suggests, a psychopath.

Midway through the show Cloud switches gears, framing the majority of his second half as a séance-style attempt to communicate with the dead.  This is, he explains, a bit of a tribute to the creator of his beloved Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a prominent spiritualist.   This spiritualist theme allows Cloud to incorporate mind reading, hypnotist, and even meditative techniques to create his effects.  The emphasis is always on the mind reading, Cloud’s specialty, but the addition of the more varied techniques accentuates the story line of that segment, to Cloud’s benefit.

Notably, given the nature of Cloud’s show, he is nevertheless kind to his audience participants.  Cloud reserves the majority of his sinister affectations for the audience as a group, and is much more considerate when interacting with the individuals who put themselves before their peers to help him perform his tricks.

The split format of Psycho(logical) works well for Cloud.  While his séance themed section is certainly engaging, the premise may have felt a bit thinly stretched if he had attempted to hold it for the entire hour.  The only issue is that he did spend such a significant portion of his show on a segment that seemed to have little to no relation to his Psycho(logical) theme.  Cloud did end with a throwback to the start of the show that successfully tied the evening together, but these were external to the séance section.

Psycho(logical) is dependably impressive and reliably entertaining throughout.  Cloud’s séance section was a delightfully creative framework both to showcase his mind reading tricks and allow him to explore related techniques, but did feel like its own self-contained mini-show dropped randomly into the otherwise Psycho(logical) themed main event.

At the start of the show, Cloud claims that any member of the audience may be unknowingly sitting beside a psychopath.  By the end, the one thing that is clear is that, regardless of Cloud’s true mental state as a man, as a magician he certainly plays an entertaining psychopath.


Colin Cloud can be found at Pleasance Courtyard during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:00 from August 9-13, 15-27 

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



In And For My Next Trick, Kevin Quantum fully embraces the silly side of magic.  The slightest notion of a theme gives the show some structure, while allowing Quantum to perform a wide range of varying tricks.  Quantum takes advantage of this freedom to show off an impressive breadth of versatility for an hour long show.

Early in the show, Quantum performs a well-judged card trick.  Quantum’s audience is just big enough that the people at the back might have had trouble seeing a playing card, but Quantum made sure to use a heavily marked card for the duration of the trick to avoid any such difficulties.  Quantum performs this trick with dexterity and poise, demonstrating his skill in classic sleight of hand.

Quantum gets into more story-based magic as well, with a magical attraction themed segment featuring a mock date with an audience participant.  In such a trick the choice of participant is key, as they have a slightly more involved role than just picking a card, and Quantum chose perfectly.  His participant appeared delighted to have her turn on stage, which made that part of the show even more delightful to watch.  The theme led Quantum into a performance that was at times more comedy-based than magic, but this was no disadvantage as he entertained the audience throughout.

Performing can be unpredictable, and Quantum is adept at handling potentially challenging variables.  Quantum has a good rapport with his audience.  If he teases the participants who he brings on stage he comes across as friendly rather than antagonistic.  Additional disturbances arose on this evening with equipment difficulties and an unusually noisy fan, but Quantum dismissed these with a smile and a joke, and did not allow them to have any detrimental effect on his performance.

Quantum uses And For My Next Trick to bring the audience on a quick journey through the more playful parts of his repertoire.  Quantum seems to be having as much fun on stage as the audience is having watching him, which makes him all the more enjoyable to watch.


Kevin Quantum can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 21:30 from August 9-20, 22-26

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


Pete Firman describes himself as a “comedy magician”, and it is his balance of comedy and magic that set Marvels apart.  Firman’s comedy does not feel like filler in between magic tricks, but like an equally valuable and sizable component of his show.

One highlight epitomizes this balance.  Firman uses a gigantic deck of cards for this section of the show, which he shuffles and then has an audience volunteer cut at random.  However, rather than then proceeding with a magic trick as the audience might reasonably expect, Firman tells a fantastically pun filled story based on the order of the cards in the deck.  This balance proves to be characteristic of Firman’s performance.

In a more magical sequence, Firman gets a couple of audience participants to join him on stage while he borrows a ring from one of them to use in his tricks.  While he could be a bit kinder to his audience participants, luckily the individuals who he had onstage seemed unfazed.  Firman performs his ring tricks with skillful precision, and an impressive degree of personal flair.

Firman unapologetically takes another break from magic when he uses a physics demonstration to mix drinks.  The principle is simple enough, and Firman’s attempts to build tension may seem especially overly dramatic to audience members who had enthusiastic physics teachers.   It is all the more impressive that Firman is able to seamlessly integrate such an experiment into his show, in a manner that does not feel out of place or any less entertaining to the audience.

Firman delves into classic magic as well, in particular in his utilization of two nesting tubes.  Callbacks to classic magic tricks continue with the materialization of a multitude of scarves.  Firman puts his own twist on the old tropes, and his distinctively idiosyncratic personality ensures that the tricks do not feel too old fashioned.

Marvels could be billed equally accurately as a magic show with bits of comedy, or a comedy show with bits of magic.  Firman is an exceptional performer in either genre, and watching him blend the two is a delight.


Pete Firman can be found at Pleasance Courtyard during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:00 from August 6-26

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


Perceptual manipulation is an inherent component of magic, but is rarely discussed in any depth in magic shows.  Sean Harrington’s Self Deception is a well assembled show that highlights several of the facets of psychology that are especially relevant to magic.  This does not come across as a psychology lecture, for better or for worse, as the emphasis is decidedly on the magic tricks.  Nevertheless, the psychological themes prove effective at creating a structure for Harrington’s magic.

In one of his opening sequences, Harrington uses coin tricks to illustrate inattentional blindness, perhaps more famously illustrated in the experiment involving basketball players and a gorilla that Harrington cites as inspiration.  These are well performed, and easily engage the attention of even the children in the audience.

Harrington frames another trick as a tribute to the discredited science of phrenology.  While the way in which he “uses” phrenology is not really how phrenology works, this is perhaps forgivable as phrenology does not actually work, a fact with Harrington makes sure to state to his audience.  It does, however, work as a fun framework in which Harrington performs his tricks.

There is room for improvement in Harrington’s performance.  His magic tricks are skillfully done, but he might work on his use of the time between tricks, which does occasionally fall a bit flat.  This is especially noticeable in his final trick, which requires some length of preparatory work prior to the big reveal.  Harrington gets the audience involved in this stage, but it does still feel like the dull necessary procedure to reach the exciting conclusion, rather than an integrated and entertaining component of the show.  Performing well through these transition times is key to creating a cohesive show out of a collection of tricks.

In Self Deception Harrington has put together a fun set of magic tricks, which do for the most part fit in well with his psychology theme.  Harrington interacts well with an audience of mixed ages.  While there are elements of Harrington’s performance that could definitely do with more polish, his creative use of his theme has enabled him to design an interesting magic show.


Sean Harrington can be found at La Vida Room 1 (Venue 113) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:30

More information on Sean Harrington and his performance dates can be found here


Aaron Calvert sat down with us after his show Declassified to talk a little about hypnotic suggestibility, his television show, and the pressures of performing at the Fringe.

Hannah: What got you into hypnosis?  What made you decide this is what you want to dedicate your life to?

Aaron: I got into hypnosis at 15, I saw a hypnotist onstage and around the same time I saw Derren Brown. I was interested in magic and being onstage and performing, so I started to read up on it, started to research it, try and practice it.  Then, I worked in America when I was 18, at a summer camp. They knew I was interested in this area and said “Hey, why don’t you put on a show for us?” I was hesitant, I was like, “…..ohh, okay…? Sure?” but I did and 35 people showed up and it was an amazing show and just worked. Then I went to med school, and I did hypnotherapy on the side, it was part of my medical degree, and I was kinda left with two choices at that point- either I could go full time into medicine or I could go full time into entertainment. And I couldn’t do both, because, if a patient walks in at 5 o’clock when you have a show at seven, it doesn’t really work out. So I just had to go with my heart, and hypnosis and performing in general are where my heart laid, so that’s exactly what I went for.  

So does the medical side of hypnosis interest you, or just the entertainment aspects?

It does interest me. I combine the techniques I learned from hypnotherapy and the techniques I’ve developed onstage for myself, to make the approach I have. I think that’s…it’s not revolutionary, but it’s different that what most hypnotists do, either they’re very much stage entertainment or they’re very much hypnotherapy. Whereas I combine both of those and because of that I get a really good response to the hypnosis. As you saw tonight, there were a lot of the people in the audience I could have chosen and I got fantastic suggestions on stage because of that.

Can you talk about hypnotic susceptibility? Some people say no one can be hypnotized if they don’t want to, and others say everyone can be hypnotized?

Sure, well I think they’re two sides of the same coin basically. You’ve got some people who say you can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be, and that’s absolutely true. And the other side of it is that everyone can be hypnotized. And yes, everyone can be, but if you don’t want to be you won’t be. Some people are amazing subjects, and like in my Channel 4 show, we had to go out of our way to find incredible subjects who were highly suggestible that would work and would be able to let me erase their memory each time. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people who are just open to some suggestion, and we might not ever be able to do something like erase their memories but they may well experience something like their foot being stuck to the floor, and that’s it. So you’ve got a spectrum of suggestibility. There is a moment when you’re being hypnotized by someone when you choose to go with them. If you go with it, it’s an incredible experience. But some people resist it and it doesn’t work.

What’s your opinion on the suggestion that most participants at a stage show aren’t actually hypnotized in the strictest sense, but playing along because they’re onstage? Do you think it matters?

I think it matters a lot for my show. I don’t necessarily think it matters a lot for comedy shows, where by someone wants to get onstage and might happily follow the instructions to dance with a mop or whatever that suggestion may be. In my show I invite the whole audience to participate, I go out to the audience, and I purposefully test them. They don’t know what I’m looking for, so I can tell when someone might be faking, and I test them to make sure I get the most suggestible people onstage. Because the things I ask people to do, they wouldn’t be able to do properly if they were faking. And it’s so important. Each of the participants, every one of them, does something incredible. And if any one of them was faking it, it wouldn’t work, and it would be very obvious, and it would become very awkward. That to me- I’d hate to have that be the case in my show.

What’s the most stressful thing about performing?

You know, I get asked this a lot, and I don’t tend to get nervous before a show until I am side stage and I hear the video intro play, and suddenly I’m like “Oh my god, why do I do this to myself.” But the moment I step onstage the nerves are gone, the moment I open my mouth, on that stage, there are no nerves, I’m just having fun. When it comes to fears for performing, the first week of the Fringe is what terrifies me. I don’t get nervous before doing a corporate event or even a stage show in Manchester or anywhere else, but coming to Fringe, I know there’s so much to do. Fringe audiences are tough. They won’t let you get away with it if you’re rubbish, and so the first week of the Fringe is probably my most scary time of the year, and then I settle into it and I just enjoy the rest of the run.

What’s the most exciting?

It’s got to be sharing an experience with people. I want people to leave my show having had an experience that they will take away and talk about with their friends and their family. I don’t really care if they remember my name, but as long as they were in some way moved or left with something to think about and talk about from the show, that’s my job done, that’s great, that’s entertainment. It’s not about ego, it’s not about me, it’s about the audience experience. And if the audience are having the best time, the most exciting thing for me is seeing that response.

And now you have a TV show, Hello Stranger. What was your inspiration there?

That tv show came about through the production company that had an idea that was based on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where two people have their memories erased. And they approached me with basically, ‘was it possible to erase one’s memory’ and I was like, yes, depending on how long and what for. And so we started to develop this idea and eventually came up that we wanted to have a couple and we wanted to have them erase their memories of each other and then go on a date. So the inspiration come from two points, one, the film, and two, the idea of giving a couple the chance to meet for the first time again. And getting them to meet each other, that’s what it’s about. It wasn’t about sending them on a date or getting them to break up, it was about getting a couple to meet and fall in love all over again.

Did it turn out the way you expected?

Yes. It did and it didn’t. I loved working on the show. What was brilliant was stuff that happened off camera that reaffirmed for me that everything that was happening in this experiment was genuine. The thing I didn’t like was that a lot of people called fakery on it. Which is natural with a hypnosis show and I think it was because we didn’t quite display all of the moments of genuine interactions we had that happened off camera. I’m very happy with the program, I’m happy that it’s out, I’m happy that everyone got to see it. But I think it taught me we need to help people understand hypnosis more, help people understand what’s going on.

So what do you think you enjoy more, live performance or television?

I enjoy both for very different reasons. I enjoy the live because you’re instantly getting feedback from the audience. So I know, if the audience don’t like something or don’t react to something at one point in this show, I can change it up again, that the audience can leave having the best show. And it’s great that when you see it live, you can’t call bullshit, because what is happening is happening to you, or is happening to your friend. That’s what makes television difficult, because they’re not there and can just say ‘oh they’re just stooges’. But what I love about television is that you can do things that take three days, or two years of planning, and bring it out, and put it on for such a wide audience. So I enjoy television because it allows us to do much bigger things, and I enjoy the live shows because you get to interact with people.

There are hundreds of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In one sentence, tell our readers why Declassified is a must see.

If you want the opportunity to be involved, and see people demonstrate inexplicable feats live onstage, come to Declassified.


Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26

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