Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 2001

by Mandy Davis

I know - all you really want to know about is the magic! I went up to Edinburgh early on a Monday morning and arrived home late on the following Friday night; in that time, I saw around thirty performances but all that you really want is the magic!

SoS.. the main act this year was American Mark Salem. He doesn't refer to himself as a magician in any way. He talks about being able to discern things via non-verbal communication. He claims to have worked with the police and even on the recent Hamilton interview tapes. He has excellent presentation skills and some great patter lines but - he performed magic tricks!

Audience response was amazing. A great lesson was to be learned from sitting among a large group of non-magicians to hear and see their reactions to what was going on. A very fast magic square drew gasps of amazement; talk of psychology led into some predictions which drew expletives from those around me. Pseudo Psychometry went down well too, with five members of the audience drawing pictures on boards for Mark to divulge. A three-stage book test was followed by a confabulation type effect and a doctor was found in the audience to confirm that Mark's pulse could be stopped at will. The final section of the show involved a heavy blindfold and the revelation of several written cards and random objects taken from various volunteers. By the time the show was over, both the audience and I were stunned - but for different reasons. The audience believed, completely, in the powers of Mark Salem. I couldn't understand how they could be taken in by the simplest of devices. The critics from many of the newspapers were amazed too - the show was given a good four out of five star rating by most of them. Personally, I prefer the style and entertainment of a Graham P Jolley or an Andy Nyman; but what do I know - I am only a magician!

Amy Evans' Strike was a curious play with members of the Activated Image Company taking several roles each - apart from Hannah Boyde who played Amy, a twelve year old girl who decides to go on strike. I don't want to ruin the plot for anyone but when two of the characters began a game of snap using a Bicycle deck, I just knew that there would be some magic content. Suffice it to say that this included some rope effects, Evaporated Milk and a production of streamers. The producer and Magical Advisor for this production was Simon Gillis, the President of Abracamdabra which is the magic society affiliated to Cambridge University. He is a one-time member of the Marvin's Magic sales team and enjoys performing close up as well as mentalism. The cast were extremely competent in defining the individual characters that they played and I was particularly impressed with Rebecca Mills who played Amy's mother.

Apart from Magic Bob whose children's show is one of the traditions of the Fringe, the only other scheduled magic happening was a near naked magician who performed manipulations wearing only a pair of underpants! I didn't bother to search out the venue for this - well, when you've seen one manipulation act!

However, I was lucky enough to catch Tom Piccard, an American street magician who has been on the road since 1970 and has travelled all over the world. His sharp patter and gags framed some adept coin manipulations, a strange rabbit puppet gag and a single cup and balls routine. His travelling companion is Australian Claire who performs her own show which includes an escape from a locked sack. Sadly, I didn't catch the act but I did hear favourable comments as the crowds dispersed after her spot.

Erik Pickett and Tom Scott were working a street juggling act which caught the imagination of the crowds. Fire torches, clubs and machetes flew through the air and the climax was Erik's rendition of 'Look on the Bright Side' played on guitar whilst riding an extremely tall unicycle!

Favourites from the non-magical selection? Jenny Éclair's one hour stand up show was side-splitting, raucous but honest, covering a great deal of thought on having reached the ripe old age of 40. Steve Sheen's rendition of Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Small Island' is a must and is touring in the next few months to a theatre near you! I am certainly going to see it again when it comes to a nearby venue in Barnet. Rodney Bewes was an endearing Pooter in his one man show 'A Diary of a Nobody' but it was sometimes difficult to decide if his lapses of memory were endearing or irritating. Finally, readers of the Stage newspaper will be familiar with the writings of Fascinating Aida's Dillie Keane - her cabaret show was outstandingly heartwarming and extremely funny. If you would like to hear about the rest of the thirty productions that I covered in five days, do email me privately and I'll send you all the details.

© Mandy Davis, August 2001




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