The Case of the Disappearing Illusion

Apr 25 2012 | By More

Edinburgh Magic Festival Launch creates mirage of magic

Kevin McMahon launched the Edinburgh Magic Festial as a laconic lepidopterist

Kevin McMahon launched the Edinburgh Magic Festial as a laconic lepidopterist

By Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh Magic Festival was launched this morning with the festival’s Artistic Director dressed up as a lepidopterist in front of a huge black curtain at Lothian Buses’ main bus depot.

A select few journalists, a flight of photographers and many drivers and office staff from around the depot had assembled to witness what, we were reliably told, would be one of the biggest ever illusions attempted in the history of illusion in Scotland.

That illusion, we were lead to believe, would involve a bus. The constant throb of bus engines filled the air and made the ground shake. Everywhere you looked, you could glimpse bits of bus in Lothian Buses’ famous maroon livery – although I didn’t spy my favourite Number 5, done out with pictures of Maisie from Morningside.

To one side of us a white double-decker bus full of LRT employees. Opposite, another white double-decker with more employees. The two buses framed a large black drape. Yes. A bus would definitely be involved.

But how? Was the strangely attired young man – who I was later to learn was Mr Kevin McMahon – going to magically swap the two buses around. What was the black cloth all about? Did he know that it wasn’t quite hung up right? I looked at the watches on the arms of the people in the buses – all on the left hand, so they probably weren’t mirror images of each other.

The curtain, now properly straightened by the regulation red-haired female assistant, fell to a smattering of applause and Mr McMahon – would we learn to call him Magic McMahon? – stepped into the space.

This was it. We were about to witness the biggest ever illusion to be performed in Scotland. Would a bus emerge? It it didn’t have Maisie, maybe it would in the form of this year’s Magic Festival motif: a butterfly to indicate how the event has spread its wings over the last three years.

Magic McMahon – would we soon be calling him Master Magic McMahon? – wandered laconically round, sat on a large stool and, with a swirl of air whooshing up from a hidden vent between his legs, let a flutter of paper butterflies loose into the air.

I must say that butterflies were beating inside my chest with the anticipation of it all. This was going to be an amazing illusion. The guys from Black Light had been working on it for two days flat and they work fast.

The anticipation is almost terminal
A regulation red-haired magician's assistant. Can you see the bus yet? MagicFest

A regulation red-haired magician's assistant. Can you see the bus yet? © Thom Dibdin

But still Master Magic McMahon – maybe McMahon the Magnificent would be a suitable appellation – hung back. He  mentioned some of the events to be held in the Magic Festival which runs from 29 June to 6 July – in particular adding a matinee to the Magic and Variety gala at the Royal Lyceum and an expanded five day magic school for seven-to-ten year-olds.

God this McMahon the Magnificent is a cool customer. He’s cracking jokes now – obviously easing us into the kiss-off and final reveal as he steps forward once again – he is mentioning the sponsors and adding that if we all want to hang around and have a coffee and biscuit before we go home we would be very welcome.

Priceless! Merry McMahon? No, McMahon the Mocking, that is how he shall be known when the magic is finally revealed. Magic – or illusion – is all in the build-up, the telling, the surrounding story that frames the actual illusion and brings it to life. And this man can certainly build it up. The anticipation is almost terminal.

After all, you can do the most enormous bit of magical illusion – making a bus disappear for example – but if you don’t frame it right it will be nothing. You show your audience the bus, maybe make them realise just how tricky it is make a little thing disappear – or even appear – before your big reveal, shows the bus is gone.

And McMahon the Mocking can certainly string it along. Look, he’s even chatting away to the press officer as if the whole stunt is over. That is well cool. And he hasn’t even shown us the bus yet.

Except that the stunt is, in fact, over. It has happened. It is an ex-illusion, it is no more.

Apparently there was a bus behind the big black curtain all along and Mr Kevin McMahon made it disappear. I can attest to having seen a corner of a bus pass by – and there was a throbbing of bus noise in the air. But I took all that for the normal passage of time in a bus garage.

So it goes.  And what Mr Kevin McMahon – Our Kev – has succeeded in making disappear is the illusion itself. In all that undirected build-up, that magnificent masterly mystery, what has gone missing is his magic.

Hopefully, he has just hidden it for a little while and it will reappear with bells, whistles and a rootin’ tootin’ roar on June 29.

Full details of the Edinburgh Magic Festival can be found at


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