stage magic

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

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

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

 

 

PHANTASMAGORICAL

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

#DAVE: LUXURY MAGIC SHOW

The premise of Dave Alnwick’s Luxury is that he usually performs up on a stage, far from the audience, so here he wants to create a close-up, more luxurious magic show. His interpretation of this theme is characteristic of his especially mischievous magical style, and is used as an effective motif throughout the course of the show.

Aside from this motif, Alnwick has free range to perform a wide range of magic tricks, and he takes full advantage of this. Some of the best moments of the show are when the magical aspects of the performance take the audience by surprise, as much as they can do at a magic show. Alnwick pauses in the middle of setting up a mind reading trick to show off his sleight of hand skills with a pen, and frames another trick as a clever bit of origami that soon turns into proper magic.

Alnwick’s magic tricks are incredible, but even so it is his humor and larger-than-life personality that set him apart as a performer. A true comedy magician, Alnwick’s frequent jokes and quick wit keep his audience in near constant laughter. He takes the time for an extended verbal set-up for a magic trick without losing any attention from the audience.

This combination of excellence in magic and comedy has made Alnwick one of the more popular Fringe magicians, and he deals well with packing out his venue. Alnwick takes the time to do a few of his physically smaller effects twice, both at the front of the room and halfway to the back, to ensure that everyone gets a good view. He also makes sure to include the entire audience when picking participants for his tricks rather than just focusing on those in the front half of the seats. In spite of the playful interpretation of his Luxury motif, it is clear that Alnwick cares about his entire audience, and he makes the effort to ensure that everyone who has come out for his show has a magical experience.

Typically of Alnwick’s shows, Luxury is well worth the time for those who enjoy both comedy and magic. It may be necessary to arrive early to get a seat, but after watching the show the audience will understand why Alnwick is so popular.

 

Dave Alnwick can be found at Voodoo Rooms (Venue 68) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 13:40 from August 15-26

CHRIS COOK: CONCEALED

Chris Cook is quite probably the hardest working magician at the Edinburgh Fringe. A consummate professional who holds his audience in his thrall during his stage show, in Concealed, Cook also proves that he has the personability necessary for a fantastic close-up performance.

Concealed’s venue is a tiny room in the basement of the Street bar. The scent of weed wafts gently down from above, and the decor includes disco balls, a cherub, ducks, and twee wallpaper. And in the middle of all this, Cook practically vibrates as he bounces endearingly from taking music requests, gulping down an espresso martini, and bantering with his audience with charming earnestness as he tries to fit everyone into the room.  The place is tiny but the show well attended- knowledge of Cook’s skill has spread by word of mouth and everyone is eager to see for themselves.

Cook performs the traditional, but he performs the traditional well. Even if you’re familiar with magic and you’ve seen the tricks he does before- and surely you have, as he does a rendition of the oldest trick in the world- nothing ever feels even remotely stale. He breathes exuberant almost to the point of manic energy into this intimate performance. Close up magic is a really fast way to separate the truly talented magicians from the deceptively clever showmen and Cook is, actually, both. Every trick is precise, and if it weren’t, we would never have been given the opportunity to realize. Every joke hits, and if it hadn’t, it would have been transformed into one that did. Cook is as quick on his feet as he is with his hands, and even though watching him work makes one exhausted for him, it’s also oddly exhilarating.

Concealed is a performance intentionally under-advertised, because at heart it’s just a guy, keen about magic, sharing it with a small and cheerful crowd. There’s no overarching theme, there’s no moral to no story, it’s a sparse show content in in its own purity, and a purely good show.

 

Chris Cook can be found at The Street (Venue 239) during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe at 19:45 from August 15-25. 

KEVIN QUANTUM: VANISHING POINT

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