stage magic

EDINBURGH MAGIC SOCIETY END OF SEMESTER CABARET

☆☆

Edinburgh University Magic Society’s End of Semester Cabaret was a showcase of the talented magicians that dwell among Edinburgh’s student body. With no overarching theme, the night was characterised by a diverse set of acts with close-up magic juxtaposed against larger stage shows. Regrettably, the evening was heavily delayed due to technical difficulties which unfortunately persisted throughout the show. Nonetheless, a close-up magician (who grew in confidence with each successful trick performed) entertained the audience and ensured the time passed quickly.

Comedic compare Alex De Koning entertained throughout the evening. His risqué jokes were well received by the student audience and De Koning’s charismatic personality ensured he dealt well with an array of magical mishaps, including a particularly difficult participant for one of his first tricks. De Koning’s persistence in the face of adversity paid off when his latter tricks were pulled off almost flawlessly. De Koning used his role well to highlight his large and diverse repertoire and ensured the audience looked forward to his inputs.

Matt Yocum had the tricky task of opening the show. Like De Koning, Yocum faced a difficult participant who he was unable to put at ease, which undoubtedly left the finale of his first trick falling a bit flat. Conversely, Yocum’s cups and balls trick was executed perfectly – no mean feat when the balls kept rolling off the make-shift table.

Chris Morningstar was the most bizarre and therefore the most memorable act of the evening. His act creatively pulled three seemingly unrelated aspects – maths, musicals and magic – into a comical and unexpected performance. Although also facing repeated technical difficulties, Morningstar breezed through his impressive stage magic tricks. Morningstar’s performance became repetitive towards the end, but in true rockstar fashion, Morningstar got the audience singing along with him, leaving the audience wanting more.

Most hindered by the technological difficulties was Leo Hotham whose act centred upon traditional close-up card tricks. With the input for the large projected back screen being a grainy webcam, unable to pick out the suits of the cards, the magic was slightly lost for those who were not in the front row. Although smooth-talking Hotham’s tried and tested lines will be well known to anyone who has seen a magic show before, his slick tricks were nonetheless impressive and well-executed.

Sean Harrington clearly had a large following in the audience, and given his remarkable performance, it is not difficult to see why. The only act to fully engage with the difficult double-tiered venue, Harrington’s showmanship was second to none. Although dangerous at times (perhaps throw coins away from rather than towards the audience in future!), Harrington performed arguably the most technically difficult magic of the evening effortlessly showing he is an incredibly skilled, traditional magician.

For a seemingly unrehearsed event, the Edinburgh Magic Society End of Semester Cabaret was an enjoyable showcase of diverse magic styles – it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for similar events by them in the future.

 

More information on the Edinburgh Magic Society can be found here.

AVA BEAUX: THE MYSTERIOUS TALES OF POE

☆☆☆☆

As the audience enters her venue, Ava Beaux appears to be incredibly sweet and welcoming, pulling over extra chairs to ensure that the sizable crowd who wish to see her show all manage to fit in the room. This is a comforting memory to cling to as The Mysterious Tales of Poe begins and Beaux’s eerie performance persona becomes increasingly unsettling.  Beaux holds the audience’s attention from the moment she silently starts cutting up a balloon string.  Her mesmerizing performance ensures that no one looks away even as the tricks get more macabre.
 

Nevertheless the audience feels a degree of safety, as all of Beaux’s creepiest effects and destructive impulses are focused on herself.  She is kinder to the participants who she calls upon to help throughout the show.  The magic itself is largely well performed.  If the odd prop is visible before it is meant to be the audience hardly notice or care as they are caught up in the flow of Beaux’s interpretations of Poe’s stories.
 

This is where Beaux truly excels, in the interweaving her storytelling with her magic.  Every trick supports the Poe stories that she narrates.  Likewise, each story is perfectly chosen as being suitable to be told through magic and further her theme, so the magic never feels forced.  The finale of her show is, however, entirely storytelling, and Beaux invites her audience to close their eyes to better appreciate Poe’s words, even at the expense of making her final reveal slightly anticlimactic.  Seeing the majority of the audience follow this advice is a testament to the degree of trust that Beaux manages to build in spite of the frightening nature of her performance.
 

The theatricality of The Mysterious Tales of Poe broadens its appeal; audience members certainly don’t have to be fans of magic to enjoy it.  On the other hand, those who are used to seeing magic performed as trick after trick with no unifying theme might gain a greater appreciation for the potential of magic when performed with Beaux’s creativity.
 

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

JOHN ACCARDO: METHOD TO THE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Magic can be many things, based on everything from the taste of the performer to the perception of the spectator. Magic can be challenging, exciting, classic, smug, one or any or none of the above but something else. But in John Accardo’s Method to the Magic, above all else, magic is joy.

Accardo is a wellspring of effusive, infectious enthusiasm. It is abundantly apparent just how much passion he has for magic, and how much delight he takes in sharing it. This devotion transfers more and more strongly to his audience the longer he spends with them.

Method the the Magic is a very casual show. Accardo chats with his crowd as they come in, banters easily, and makes no attempt to restore order when certain moments of audience participation dissolve into farcical levels of confusion and self consciousness. Rather, he leans into it, letting every moment develop naturally. This cannot and should not be mistaken for lack of control. Accardo is a sharper and more skilful magician than he’s willing to let his audience think he is. The silliness inspires goodwill for him in his spectators, and thus Accardo has won the crowd.

Accardo uses classic magic effects very well integrated into his narrative for the show- explaining what it’s like to be a magician and (almost, sort of) what it’s like to do the tricks. He jumps from mind reading to card tricks and beyond with equal and impressive mastery, and every part is- there’s this word again- a joy – to watch.

This is John Accardo’s first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, but hopefully the first of many. Because it won’t be long before the crowds of Fringe goers discover that in a bunker plopped down in George Square is a hidden gem of the Fringe magic world.

More information on John Accardo can be found here.

LUKE JERMAY: STRANGE POWER

☆☆☆☆

Predicting the future is indeed a strange power. Who even, really, wants to know what comes next? Wouldn’t that take the fun out of it? But for those who have gotten to experience Luke Jermay, the fun of it is undeniable.

Strange Power is not a pretentious show, despite the teeming grandiose of Jermay. It is a thing exactly of itself- a man will come onstage, answer the deepest questions his audience members have of their futures and, sixty minutes later, leave. It is one single act done identically, but it is one single act done incredibly well.

Jermay is an exceptionally powerful performer. From the moment he steps onstage he radiates such a strong sense of presence- despite not saying a word for the first several minutes- that the audience is held in his thrall and wait in their own silent, excited anticipation, so as not to risk missing a word. When he does speak, Jermay is commanding and sharp, but not without genuine warmth. He is the portrait of a man who Knows What He Is Doing, and his onlookers cannot help but be desperate to know too.

Most importantly, Jermay is right, and not just right but exhaustively so. Jermay does not just get a read on each of his chosen audience members, but does so with compelling, intimate depth. Unlike some of his profession, he does not shy away from giving actual advice on the paths that can be taken. He does not fear overstepping- after all, we did ask. His decision to engage so thoroughly allows him to be invested into the futures he predicts, and allows the rest of the audience to be as well. Jermay makes the lives of random strangers who happened to go to the same Fringe show as you as interesting as your own.

Luke Jermay does have a strange power, and few could predict the future as well as he. But one prediction can be made with total confidence by anyone who sees his show: Luke Jermay is only going to build on his already prodigious strengths, and be a household name before long.

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

MANDY MUDEN: IS NOT THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

☆☆

With her bold style and even bolder personality, Mandy Muden is anything but invisible.  Muden’s premise for “Is not the Invisible Woman” is that women “of a certain age” are overlooked often enough to feel invisible, and she has set out to prove that she, at least, still commands attention.

However, Muden is let down by her magic, which is often basic and clumsy.  Her tricks are at their best when she incorporates them into her overall performance, as this marginally raises the audience’s emotional investment.  A section illustrating a romantic relationship ending poorly using several bits of string shifts Muden’s performance to an unexpectedly melancholic tone, despite the maintenance of her playful character, but is a highlight in how she uses magic.

Perhaps ironically, Muden’s many jokes about and references to being a woman “of a certain age” get old fast, especially as they start to sound repetitive.  It is possible that viewers who feel like they fit in to the category that she describes would appreciate this element of her show a bit more, and that she intentionally caters to this audience.  She is at least consistent in maintaining her theme.

Muden develops a patchy relationship with her audience, teasing her participants  slightly more than necessary, even when the participant in question was visibly uncomfortable. She was lucky in that the majority of her participants responded well to this approach.  Her repeated instructions to get her male participants to weigh themselves to contribute numbers for part of her final reveal could be construed as commentary on social pressures on women’s bodies.  However, it is left to the audience to decide whether her method of making this point is too neglectful of the similar pressures on men’s bodies that may be relevant in the lives of her participants.

Muden has a solid goal in her show in demonstrating to the audience and perhaps also to herself that she is not limited by her age and gender.  Her execution may have a more niche appeal.  Nevertheless she certainly succeeds in her aim—in fact, it is difficult to imagine Muden ever being overlooked.

 

More information on Mandy Muden and her performance dates can be found here.

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

It takes a good magician to entice a busy Edinburgher to Glasgow on a Wednesday evening. Luckily, Billy Reid is worth the trip.  Reid makes his audience for Watch Closely feel welcome as soon as they step through the door, taking the time to learn as many people’s names as possible.  This allows him to address many of his participants by name when inviting them to take part in his show, giving the entire performance a pleasantly intimate and relaxed atmosphere.

The majority of Watch Closely is close-up card tricks, which Reid performs with neatness and style.  Reid lists the awards that he has received for his magic at the beginning of his performance, but he does not really need to, as his evident skill speaks for itself.  Reid’s card tricks set the standard for precisely performed magic, and his storytelling and comedy are executed with the same dexterity, ensuring that the energy of his performance remains constant as he transitions between tricks.  Watch Closely is narratively and thematically cohesive, as Reid uses stories from his life to gradually guide the audience toward the inspiring message with which he ends the show.

If you are a magic fan, you’ve probably seen some of the same tricks repeated often, especially if you see the same magician more than once. But Reid’s tricks are so visually beautiful that watching them again is a joy more similar to that of revisiting a piece of art at a museum.  The use of color in a trick themed on childhood memories of outdoor adventures sets this tone, and it is epitomized in Reid’s incredible illustrated deck that is always a highlight.

Every so often the right performer at the right time is more than entertainment, but also an inspiration to their audience to view the world differently, or the medium to help them process emotions that they might not have even known needed processing.  Reid conveys all of this intensity with his trademark artistry, in what is still unmistakably and unapologetically a magic trick.  The title of his show initially sounds like standard magician bravado, challenging his audience to catch his sleight of hand.  By the end of the evening the double meaning becomes clear, that Reid uses his magical skills to encourage his audience to pay closer attention to their own lives.

 

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

LUKE CLOSELY: A MUSICIAN DOING MAGIC!

☆☆

It’s challenging to stand out from the hoard of Edinburgh Fringe magicians, but Luke Closely has found an interesting way, and it’s not just his preciously punnish name. (Luke Closely? Like Look Closely? Get it? Don’t worry, he’ll make sure you do.) The twist, rather, is that Closely is the Fringe’s one and only musical magician. The combination of these two talents makes A Musician Doing Magic! a unique and intriguing experience.

Fingers Piano Bar is, quite obviously by it’s name, and apt venue for the musical side of this show. Less so apt for magic, with pillars and tucked in booths, but Closely does well working with the particularities of his venue, instructing his audience of where to avoid sitting and making sure to elevate anything he was working with sufficiently. He also demonstrates admirably his musical talent, especially his keyboard skills. Closely overtly has a deep and ebullient passion for music, and his naked enthusiasm is inspiring and makes his show all the better.

Unfortunately, Closely seems to struggle with some of the magic side of his show, at least during the performance reviewed. The integration of the two talents is thoughtfully done, including a mind reading trick involving audience member’s favourite bands, and a trick involving his own (attempting to) play an instrument. But Closely flubs through his tricks a few times, and isn’t able to cover the mistakes up. To his credit, the mistakes never make him falter, and he is able to at least brush them off and move on with the performance without drawing attention to the problems. His confidence here is impressive and turns moments where his show could have gone off track into an opportunity to get the empathy of his audience.

A Musician Doing Magic! is a show with a great concept and an genial performer, and has definite potential to be a solidly entertaining production. There’s no better time that the Edinburgh Fringe to work through material with largely supportive audiences, and with a little more practice, Luke Closely definitely has a fantastic show in the making.

 

Luke Closely can be found at Fingers Piano Bar (Venue 221) during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 15:10 from August 21-26

More information on Luke Closely and his performance dates can be found here

CHRIS DUGDALE: UP CLOSE!

Chris Dugdale is pure Las Vegas cheesiness, and if you don’t like that you won’t like this show. But even if you don’t, you have to admit, he’s the best at it around. Up Close is perfectly on-brand Dugdale, loud and smarmy and yet undeniably entertaining.

Dugdale is the definition of polished and slick. Not a second of the show lags, not a single thing a volunteer says throws him off, and every single joke get uproarious laughter and applause. One almost expects magicians of his brand of theatrical to go for some laughs at their volunteers’ expense, but he is absolutely professional and utterly respectful. Dugdale only ever laughs with his volunteers, and showers them with compliments to offset the unease of being onstage in front of so many people. Having been brought onstage myself, I can attest that he absolutely should be commended for this deference.

Up Close is not a show of terribly original magic; it’s not even new to him, which will be very apparent if you’ve seen him at the Fringe before. But his experience with the material means that it is flawlessly executed. And despite this repetition, none of the content ever comes across as stale, with Dugdale pouring his ample enthusiasm into every word and gesture.

Chris Dugdale’s Up Close is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the best at being ridiculous you’ll find. For an hour of fun and funny entertainment, expert showmanship, and masterly magic, Up Close is a solid pick.

 

Chris Dugdale can be found at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:10 from August 18-26

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

BEN HART: THE NUTSHELL

☆☆

The room already radiates an air of enigma as you walk in, and this is just your basic Fringe venue. What is it about Ben Hart that infuses mysteriousness into any room in which he walks?  That question may never be answered, and maybe that’s for the best. What can be known, however, is that Ben Hart’s The Nutshell is an elegant, stylistic experience in truly beautiful magic.

The Nutshell feels, in a nutshell (sorry), like a desperate and intense attempt of a magician at piercing the true nature of his art and its’ limits. A journey in magical madness, even, but one so artfully explored that it pulls every onlooker in, captivated from start to finish. From changing the course of fate to nature to murder, Hart somehow connects an array of topics into a enthralling rhythm.

Hart is an understated performer, gentle in word and movement, which makes his magic feel all the more astonishing when it happens- you’ve been lulled into a pleasant reverie by his stories when you’re caught off guard by the reveal of the illusion he’s slipped past you. Hart is masterful at maintaining a sense of delicious tension, never letting the mood break even when he has to instruct audience volunteers. He weaves his way through the slipperiest of sleight of hand, and appears as watchful of his audience as we are of him, a small smirk as if wondering how far he can trick us into suspending our disbelief.

Ben Hart is an exceptionally skillful magician and a bewitching performer. You won’t leave The Nutshell completely understanding what you just saw- or even what you were meant to see- but you won’t be able to stop wondering about it.

 

Ben Hart can be found at Gilded Balloon Teviot during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 20:15 from August 18-27

More information on Ben Hart and his performance dates can be found here

CHRIS COOK: CHANCE

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