June 30 – July 2
Summerhall is truly a vast warren of rooms; and for the launch of the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, each one was hosting a different magician’s 20 minute taster of longer acts to come later in the festival. The magical atmosphere began with the elegant cocktail reception; with the expected smatterings of waistcoats among the eclectic crowd of middle-aged couples, a smooth jazz quartet on stage, and eye-catching ‘floating’ trees suspended by helium balloons. A small crowd was clustered around a man at the back of the room, attentively straining to hear his words over the jazz as he deftly pulled and switched cards out of the pack with classic tricks.
There was much more to come; the printed timetable and the cheerful but shy staff guiding us to pack in as many magical mini events as we could digest in four hours. Everyone held tickets to at least two shows, and for those ones, you were ushered to the ticket holders ‘ line outside each event that guaranteed access. The other line was left to luck and chance, and a wee dollop of magic. Though the punters were joking about the slight anxiety of going stand-by, I managed to get into all the events I queued for, and I think everyone else did too. The system seemed a little chaotic, but it added to the fun of finding your way into a tiny auditorium, and sitting a couple of feet away from the action meant a good chance of getting dragged on to stage to do something vaguely embarrassing. But hey, that’s what you sign up for.
Having grown up on going to see Paul Daniels live, it was interesting to see the new crop of magicians and if there were any modern trends. Still invariably all men, but a range of ages, styles and nationalities, all professing their wish that they could go and witness each other’s acts, no doubt bored with practising their own to death. Dave Alnwick, a bespectacled and bouncy Ed Sheeran turned mind reader, led the way, amazing us with his mind reading abilities and making us laugh. He guessed a number correctly that I had secretly chosen out of ten, and actually made my mouth drop open with his speed and accuracy. Was it simple human psychology, my eye movements, statistics, gender, age, or how I was dressed that led him to his instant conclusion? Did I blink and give away something I didn’t know about? I could only guess at how he knew. Vincent Gambini was next to queue for: and well worth the uncertainty, as he was droll, deadpan, and hilarious. With his nuanced meta-observations woven in to his performance, he was truly the Stuart Lee of magic. He gave us belly laughs too, brought on brilliant timing and deadly mastery of skills. Gambini, probably my favourite, unassumingly dropped in some devastating social commentary as he moved between his personae like an old time mime artist.This is the Guardian reader’s magician, and great for those shyer folks who dread being randomly being pulled up out of the audience.
Morgan and West belie their ten years’ of experience with their youthful exuberance underlying their Victorian alter-egos. Regaling the audience with old-fashioned banter and cheeky expressions as we waited for their show to begin, we were transported back to a vaudeville travelling circus atmosphere. They were a tight comic act, and although some tricks dragged a little in their delivery, they delivered in the end, with an memorable dash of panache. They had a big crowd, eager participants and rewarded with great applause. I caught Elliot Bibby’s Wheel of Magic last, a fairly new act from our local Falkirk. Up on stage, presenting a Poundland version of Wheel of Fortune, he pulled out half the small audience to help him in bizarre and slightly risque tricks and jokes, which is why the evening Magic Fair lates were deemed 16 plus. He lucked out with assistants who were plucky, mouthy and game, buoyed with Dutch courage.
It’s a great advertisement for the various acts showcasing their talents in the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, that continues for the rest of the week in various atmospheric historical venues around the city. Many of the acts are returning for the Fringe, and would be well worth your while checking them out. Although the overall organisation could be slicker, and the venue spruced up a little more, the atmosphere was friendly and fun. Summerhall offers the space for live music, food and drink, and even a magic shop, so even if you are alone and have a gap between shows, there’s no reason to feel awkward. Unless they drag you out the audience and tie you with a piece of rope to a stranger. Then anything could happen…
Reviewer : Lisa Williams