stage magic

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. 

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

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

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

ADAM PATEL: BROWN MAGIC

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

PETE FIRMAN: MARVELS

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

SEAN HARRINGTON: SELF DECEPTION

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

TRICNIC

☆☆

Tricnic is a comedy magic show featuring twin magicians Kane and Abel who reject your preconceived notions of the props and common items magic is usually done with and instead perform with food. Tricnic is exactly what it sounds like – a picnic of tricks.

In terms of the tricks, the magicians do not do anything uniquely original or surprising, but that is forgivable in a magic show when the presentation is skillful and entertaining. However, in this regard they also struggle. Surprisingly, considering that they are twin brothers, Kane and Abel have a more awkward and stilted lack of chemistry than random strangers shoved on a stage together would. This uncomfortable dynamic is distracting from the show and means that even when the tricks pay off, it is hard to take any pleasure from them. Luckily, this magic show is situated next to a bar but that still wasn’t enough for some of the audience at the performance I attended, as some people slunk or even blatantly strolled out mid show.

To their favour, Kane and Abel are competent magicians, and their chosen shtick of a trick picnic is fun. Unfortunately, the bits that involve audience participation- which is most of them- the magical duo prove that they are just as weak at interacting onstage with people who aren’t related to them. In cases where poor direction leads audiences to fumble with what they are meant to do, they are mocked by the magicians. This is to be expected, but the lack of any true, connecting humor in their mockery makes it sound harsh and uncomfortable to the audience. It also means that the different tricks are drawn out to the point of feeling pained as Kane and Abel attempt to get the necessary participation accomplished. Even when they get there in the end, any true momentum and impact has been irrevocably lost.

Tricnic is a free show, and the idea of it isn’t bad at all. With more rehearsal with each other, and by adopting a more natural banter as their onstage patter, the brothers could probably get past their wooden interactions.and deliver an entertaining performance.

 

More information on Kane & Abel and their performance dates can be found here

Originally published here

COLIN CLOUD: KILLS

☆☆☆

Colin Cloud is the ultimate rockstar mentalist, or as he styles himself, deductionist. He has succeeded in cultivating the most intriguing aesthetic for himself, combining the Victorian mysteriousness of his idol Sherlock Holmes with his own flashy modern tech and dramatic reveals. The astoundingly talented showmanship he demonstrates means that even if his deductions should falter, the entertainment factor never will.

The first part of Cloud’s show consists of him deducing information about the members of his audience- personal or even secret information. There are some awkward falters in this bit, and it seems that truly accurate deduction might rely on being familiar with a large variance of nationalities, which is quite a challenge with the international crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe. However, he does not allow setbacks to disrupt the momentum of the show whatsoever, and brushes off the mistakes so easily and with such quick wit that you would almost believe it was intentional. As he warms up, as well, his powers of deduction kick in most impressively. Even though the shocked gasps of people having unspoken information revealed can never really get old, Cloud makes sure the show does not stagnate by filling it with many different methods of deduction. All with the same premise, but happening in unique and hilarious ways. Every time you think you know how he does it, Cloud immediately proves you wrong.

Just when it seems the show has ended, Cloud lights a candle and solemnly informs us of a new skill he has learned, a new outlet of his powers. What is the worst thing someone with Cloud’s particular talents could do? Well, it’s right there in the title of the show. Unfortunately, perhaps in a haste to become akin to the next Derren Brown, Cloud has premiered this trick before it was finished being perfected. There is a large amount of leading to make sure the audience understands the magnitude of what is about to happen, which would be acceptable if it weren’t for the fact that it never really happens. As far as presentation goes, this demonstration has no faults. It is slick and intriguingly tense. But if you’re paying attention, you will realize that there is no definitive payoff. However, the reality is, it would not be obvious to everyone in the audience, and that is to Cloud’s credit. Colin Cloud is a skillful pied piper of his audiences, and if he says “be impressed”, we will be. After all, nothing could be as impressive as his closing trick, where one deduction from the beginning of the show comes back around to prove that, ultimately, Colin Cloud is smarter than the rest of us combined.

 

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

Originally published here

CHAMPIONS OF MAGIC

☆☆☆

Champions of Magic is the summer blockbuster of magic shows, or at least aims to be- it is the Avengers of magicians. It is not your average, every day magic show (if there is such a thing), where you have to commit yourself to embracing one style, one skillset of magic. Instead, you are given four different magic shows in one, meshed together in an unforgettable night of wonderment.

The first of the magicians to kick off the show was a young magician with an old-school style, Edward Hilsum, conjuring doves with impressive flair. The magicians cycled their acts through the night, so we saw him again a few times over the course of the show, but one of the particularly impressive aspects of two of Hilsum’s three sets was his ability to remain captivating with a wordless act. In fact, his talent at maintaining attention meant that I did not even realize he hadn’t said a word until several minutes into the show!

Following Hilsum’s fist set was that of Alex McAleer, the mind-reader. I’ve reviewed McAleer here before, from his Edinburgh Fringe show. Here he had a much larger stage, and one he managed dominate impressively. Mind reading more than any other form of magic relies on audience participation and response, and McAleer undeniably had the personability and flair to make the crowd comfortable and increasingly eager to interact. Over his sets he wowed the audience with his skill at seemingly picking thoughts and images straight out of their minds, knowing everything from a card they were thinking of to unexpected personal details.

Fay Presto took the stage next, taking what initially seemed like it would be the most standard magic staple into a completely different, funny direction. Doing classic magic tricks can verge into boring the audience, I have learned, but she turned this potential around into something unexpected, a delightful turn of magic refusing to take itself too seriously. Presto particularly excelled when including children in her acts, her encouragement making them visibly increasingly confident with being onstage and involved.

The final part of this show was done by the magician duo Young & Strange. Their act coming last was a commendable choice, as they provided a burst of silly, snarky energy. While bordering on ridiculousness, the dedication of the two in playing off each other absolutely worked. Young & Strange were the epitome of a big finish, pulling out all the stops with huge intimidating mechanics, bright lights, a sweet story, and a glamorous assistant.

Champions of Magic truly was a great show of astonishing talent. If any criticism can be found, it is not in their abilities, but in the cohesion of the overall show. The range of different specialties was a positive, however, the acts suffered in that it seemed not much effort had been put into segues. It made the show more fragmented that it needed to be, and displaced the audience’s energy. There was so much good to outweigh this problem, however, and Champions of Magic was a astounding, delightful show, all the magicians astonishing the audience in their own unique ways.

Champions of Magic will be continuing their tour with shows through the UK, venues and dates can be found here.

COLIN CLOUD: THE FORENSIC MIND READER

☆☆☆☆☆

Any act that incorporates Sherlock Holmes will always have my automatic affection. But the effortless ease with which Mr Cloud incorporated his fascination with the character is spectacular on it’s own merits.

One challenge of the Fringe is that which room you are in definitely sets the tone for your show. And some of the Fringe venues are a little bit shoddy, or even nice but unintended for the purposes they’re now being used for. I got that impression off the Just the Tonic room that Mr Cloud’s show was in. However, his minor additions manged both to blend with the initial surroundings and, for lack of a better phrase, “class the place up a bit.” The tightly packed audience (sold out!) combined with the backdrop, gave off the sensation that you could, in fact, have been transported back to the Victorian era, and found yourself in the fictional detective’s sitting room- both dubious but undeniably curious at what secrets you were wearing in your facial expressions that he would see right through to.

And as if straight from the pages of one of these stories, Mr Cloud delivered his astonishing skill. The audience was repeatedly stunned at the ability he had to seemingly pick thoughts right out of his participants heads- the word from a favorite childhood book, a random number they had only then decided upon themselves, an image chosen from countless possibilities recreated right in front of their eyes. All done with a practiced air of charm and just a little bit of impatient disdain for participants who had trouble following simple directions. After all, nothing could be more Sherlockian. His showmanship was thoroughly on point, softening the adopted affect of superior wisdom by sharing his audience’s enthusiasm.

For a tone so steeped in the air of mystery, Mr Cloud does not pretend to be psychic. Rather, he is upfront about the psychological background of the techniques he uses. He perhaps leaves out mentions of old-school mentalist trickery employed, but we are all here to be entertained. There is a certain thrill to being left bewildered, and Mr Cloud knows where to draw the line between explaining how he’s reading participants lies and leaving bits up the the audience’s baffled imaginations. The combination between his skill at mentalism and his clever wit and showmanship make The Forensic Mind Reader a brilliant and utterly enjoyable experience.

The last three days of Colin Cloud’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe run at Just the Tonic are currently completely sold out, but you may be able to snatch up returns a couple hours before the performances at 5:55pm.

 

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

NEIL HENRY’S IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Note to all magicians: if you do a joke trick with a fake bunny at the beginning of your set, don’t leave it on stage. People will be distracted the entire time wondering if that bunny is going to become switched for a real one. Gotta say I’m a little disappointed.

Bunnies aside, Neil Henry presented an excellent show. His tricks were magic classics, but done with such skill and ease that even someone looking in all the right places wouldn’t see how they were being fooled. Even when presented with the challenge of easily confused audience participants, Mr Henry maintained his funny patter and kept his crowd laughing.

A particularly great moment of the show was the finale, at which point Mr Henry created legitimate concern and tension with his crowning act. Even though audiences who come to magic shows generally know that the magician has their show under control and probably won’t be harmed, Mr Henry’s last trick had people looking away and wincing- but definitely peeking through their hands.

This skillful control of the atmosphere showed the masterful showmanship Mr Henry had created even with his somewhat goofy persona, and certainty had audience members hissing ‘impossible’ afterwards as they squinted and poked at the cards onstage.

Neil Henry’s Impossible is on at Pleasance Courtyard at 3:50pm until August 25th.