Review – MagicFest Opening Gala

Jul 4 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Magical entertainment

Charlie Mag making birds appear and disappear at MagicFest

Charlie Mag making birds appear and disappear at MagicFest

Royal Lyceum
Friday 28 June
Review by Thom Dibdin

Disappearing doves and a moonwalking chihuahua joined this year’s MagicFest opening gala at the Lyceum on Friday for an evening of seriously entertaining magic.

It was all compered by Edinburgh’s own Colour Ham, who are fast becoming the local house act in magic circles. While magician Kevin McMahon was involved elsewhere – he is the festival’s director – comedian Gavin Oattes and mind-reader Colin McLeod provided an easy lubrication between the main acts.

There was a shade too much ham, to the detriment of colour, in their presentation – less geeing up and more contextualising would have been good. But once they had calmed a little, they demonstrated real rapport and had the packed Lyceum happily onside.

In an evening that worked the magic spectrum hard, from the intricacies of close-up to the exuberance of the big show, opening act, “time-traveling Victorian magicians” Morgan & West provided a superb comic deconstruction of the card trick.

Magicians don’t tell how it’s done. So Morgan and West simply perform a close-up card trick in a big space. The volunteer on stage chooses a card from a pack, writes on it, it disappears and then magically re-appears.

Which is what the volunteer sees – what the audience witness is the passage of that card around the stage. It’s simple distraction as West extracts the card and hands it to Morgan (only unseen by the volunteer) who incorporates it into a virgin pack of cards, and then forces that pack out of a choice from ten.

It’s quite the fascinating revelation for the opening act in a whole week of magic acts. But of course, just as the audience is ready to laugh knowingly as the volunteer picks his marked card from the virgin pack, West brings the card from elsewhere completely.

Switches, tricks and double deceptions – the ensuing tricks with apples, needles and balls of cotton wool provide a real flavour of an act who can not just do the sleight of hand, but know how to dress old tricks up in new and entertaining routines and then deliver them to an accompaniment of superbly enunciated patter, delivered at speed.

Ta Na Manga are a duo from Portugal who work at the other end of the spectrum. Their theatrical routine has Gonçalo Jorge relating the events of an evening, while Pedro Teixeira acts those events out in a black-box space with a set that provides all manner of magical twists to that interpretation.

It’s an intriguing, esoteric kind of magic, that is literate – even though not in Portuguese – and has a sophisticated elegance to it. Small wonder it has won awards at magic festivals – although the duo are at the mercy of their mechanical props.

Brain-defying magic tricks with a disarming casual attitude
Piff and Piffles

Piff and Piffles

Sophisticated elegance are not adjectives you would normally associate with Piff the Magic Dragon, who closes the first half. The lad in the dragon suite with the caustic wit, supercilious put-down and Chihuahua side-kick delivers brain-defying magic tricks with a disarming casual attitude.

Piff and Piffles – that’s the Chihuahua – are no more than the framework, however. And inside this off-hand delivery, a well-worn comedy routine and mcuh playing of the cute factor (Piffles’ moonwalk is show-stopping) there is room for a very sophisticated magic act.

A five star first half, if ever there was one, which showed just how magic can be diverse. The second half was good, but just never achieved the smooth, effortless delivery of the first. Magic is more than the tricks, it is about the delivery of the illusion and if the delivery falters, the mind begins to wander into wondering how it is done.

French prestidigitator Jérôme Helfenstein has plenty of routines but this one focusses on his scenic illusions, bringing hand shadows to life. It’s very clever, and there is some great sleight of hand, but little to engage the mind beyond an appreciation of whimsy.

Australian street performer Tony Roberts presents his classic straight jacket escape with a comic edge. It is a skilled and slick escape, dangled upside down, tied by an audience member who is counting down on Roberts’ iPhone as he attempts to beat his own record time. Yet the rough-hewn nature, perfect for a street performance, feels underwhelming in a theatre.

There is nothing underwhelming about the evening’s finale: Spaniard Charlie Mag. Not one jot of it. Not the the big leather trousers or the Michael Jackson coat with its 80’s power shoulder pads, not  the rictus facial grimace (of a kind that Mr Piffles might sport when constipated), to the over-elaborate kinetic robot moves.

And to be fair, there is nothing underwhelming about his act – making doves appear and disappear. He turns them from white to red, transforms them into clouds of confetti or showers of sparks only for them to magically appear on his finger tips, to be placed into a special little aviary.

There is no denying that Mag has a great act – but what draws the eye more than anything is the endowment down the front of those leather trousers. They bulge with an impediment that would have made John Holmes wince with envy at its size. So, no matter how slick Mag’s delivery, no matter how clever or artistic his transformations, what you are left with is the size of his codpiece.

It’s a real lesson about the nature of illusion and what might work in one culture doesn’t necessarily translate into another. But that is what is great about this MagicFest, it is growing into a proper, bona fide festival with all sorts of different inputs. It’s more than a collection of similar events, but not as narrow as a convention. It’s a big, public celebration of magic in all its glories.

Run ended

Royal Lyceum, Friday 28 June.

A preview of Edinburgh’s MagicFest is on Æ here: MagicFest returns with a Wonderland of delights

MagicFest website:

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