Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2004

August 2004

Rour reviewes by Drew McAdam

Midsummer Nights’ Magic
Jay Scott Berry and Mark Fisken
The Georgian House
Star rating: 3

The Fringe has seen an army of magicians over the past few years. Some good, some not so good; many of them downright awful. But MNM is different, because it’s as beautifully scripted as it is well thought out. The organisers have gone to great pains to pay attention to the finest details.

Add to this the excellent lighting, sumptuous costumes and the setting of the National Trust for Scotland property, and the result is a remarkably enjoyable experience.

Top American magician Jay Scott Berry is a Renaissance man, a real dandy who wouldn’t look out of place in a mystical castle. His dress and demeanour are both stylish and theatrical.

While he offers traditional magic with ribbons and ropes aplenty, there is also a stunning effect that involves swirling, spinning coloured lights that dance and vanish at will.

Not a stodgy card trick in sight, then.

This is juxtaposed by Edinburgh magi Mark Fisken’s alter ego Kramus Nexifius, a 2,500 year old wizard. Resplendent in silken robes, flowing locks and beard, it’s the sort of thing that could easily take on the essence of pantomime. But Fisken handles it beautifully, right down to the learned voice and the tottering walk.

If ever there ever were a real wizard, he would look exactly like the character Fisken creates. And fans of Harry Potter are going to adore this old chap who, if he put his mind to it, probably really could change base metal into gold.

All this would be show enough, but the New Age soundtrack perfectly matches the relaxing mood of the show. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Scott Berry both composed and orchestrated the album. Is there no end to this man’s talents?

It’s fun and it’s relaxing, but no less astonishing for that.

Run ends August 7th

Jarrett and Raja
Assembly Rooms
Star rating: 4

HERE’S a show that’s got something for everybody. There are big magic illusions, a rabbit, floating roses, classical music - and even a bit of nudity.

We were promised big-time American glamour. We were promised a slice of Las Vegas. We were promised top-rate piano playing, showgirls and breathtaking illusions.

So, did we get it? Well, yes.

The question is, can classical piano playing and glitzy illusion produce an entertaining mix? The problem with trying to offer “something for everyone” is that there is always the danger of falling between two stools. Which, to a degree, is what happens with this show.

In the opening we have Raj, resplendent in coat-and-tails, playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Okay, it’s a low-key opening. But things really kick in when the curtains open to reveal Jarrett, dressed as a rabble-rousing, leather-trouser clad cowboy, astride a huge neon ampersand, and surrounded by feather-festooned showgirls

It’s a big opening, but it fades slightly when Jarrett and Raja challenge each other to a duel; Raja playing piano, Jarrett – er – executing flourishes with playing cards. It’s a tongue-in-cheek clash of egos.

Aha! But they are simply lulling us into a false sense of security, because from that moment, the whole thing really takes off.

A painting of Whistler’s Mother is reduced bit by bit until a scantily dressed girl is pulled bodily out of the canvas. A violin appears, floats and then vanishes. And there is even a comedy mindreading sketch.

In essence, it’s funny and its flash.

But then, just as things are picking up, Raja plays Gershwin – a lot of it. Outstanding as the playing is (and it should be, Raja is a Julliard trained concert pianist) for those who simply want the magic, this comes as an unwelcome break in the proceedings.

However, the magic continues. Can Elvis the Rabbit escape from the Martha Stewart Kitchen of Death, while Jarrett attempts to free himself from leather shackles in the time that it takes Raja to play the Minute Waltz?

No sooner do we find out the answer to that, than a giant Beethoven plays piano – with a surprising twist. If that’s not a big enough illusion for you, then what about when Raja is held captive in a Perspex box which then has a dozen swords thrust into it? Not wanting to give too much away, suffice it to say that the double-twist finish to this illusion is breathtaking in its execution and glorious in its finale.

While there is magic aplenty on the stage, somehow the real magic between the two major players never quite gels. The “banter” between them suffers a little from stilted delivery, never quite sounding natural or true. It almost sounds like the practised but unpolished dialogue one hears at Hollywood award ceremonies.

If you like wonder and illusion, Mozart and Beethoven, then this is the show for you. However, what most people are going to be talking about is the naked shower scene. And if you want to talk about it, rather than just hear about it, then you’d best go see the show!

Run ends August 28th

Magic @ Cafe Royal
Steven Dick
Cafe Royal
Star rating: 3

LAST year there was a plethora of magic at the festival, with an army of magicians descending on the Capital.

This year, thankfully, the amateurs have stayed at home, leaving the field free for those who know what they are doing. And Steven Dick certainly knows what he is doing.

Unlike most magicians, who simply want you to acknowledge their skills, Dick recognises the fact that the audience wants to be presented with more than just a puzzle. They want entertainment. And he is happy to meet supply that need.

Of course, he employs the usual props, but he adds his own, unique banter to the mix, and he seems to genuinely like his audience. And they seem to like him

He has an easy humour and a talent with off-the cuff and up-the-sleeve remarks.

A signed ten-pound note appears inside a kiwi fruit, of all things. And his routine, based on the old Find the Lady con, but using water in a polystyrene cup (how DOES he do that?) is outstanding.

Where he fails is when he attempts to introduce bandwagon mindreading skills, which are best left to the experts. A magician does magic – and psychological chicanery, which has come to prominence of late, takes a different skill set. Mix the two, and the result is a set list that is disjointed and muddled. Give us magic, or give us mindreading; please don’t give us both.

Weakened as the presentation is by this wandering into uncharted territory, Dick is a skilled exponent of his art, and offers a level of jocular entertainment that few other magicians can match, though most would like to.

Whether performing Blockhead, in which a nail is hammered into the head, or simply teaching the kids a sneaky trick with an elastic band, Dick comes over as a warm, sparkling entertainer.

He is skilled, without pretensions, and a jolly nice person to boot. If you want to see good, uncomplicated, fun magic then this is a good place to start.

Run ends August 29th

The Magic Zone
The Pleasance
Star rating: 4

THERE’S three for the price of one with The Magic Zone. Jackie McClements warms up the audience with a nice line in patter, and an equally nice line in card tricks.

Mandy Muden creates a delightful counterpoint. She portrays the part of a sassy young lady, playing on her femininity for laughs, and her sleight of hand skills for gasps of astonishment. You just never know what’s going to happen next when Muden is on stage, but you can be certain it will border on the chaotic.

She brings with her some cracking gags, astonishing trickery and some nice by-play with members of the audience.

Between them, McClements and Muden have more than enough skill to keep the magic fans – and families – happy. The third act, however, is extraordinary.

Luke Jermay kills the audience – literally.

Just for starters, Jermay casually tosses out a deck of cards into the crowd. Several random members of the audience peek into the deck and select one card, which they keep in mind. Without again touching the cards, the young Jermay names each of the cards the individuals are merely thinking of. Two of the spectators were thinking of the same card, yet Jermay got that, too!

There are no magic boxes, no sleight of hand. Just think of a card and he’ll tell you what it is.

He unfailingly predicts what chairs certain members of the audience will select, and makes the lines on the palm of a spectator’s hand swirl and change shape.

Spooky stuff.

However, his greatest feat is when he slows, then stops his pulse. He then does the same with couples and groups in the audience, with clutches of astonished individuals throughout the venue reporting that the pulse of the person sitting next to them has also stopped. Yet Jermay is nowhere near them at the time.

This stuff has to be experienced to be believed. Grab a ticket to this show, and see dead people!

Run ends August 30th.

© Drew McAdam, August 2004




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