Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014
by Tony Middleton
The James Freedman: Man of Steal
How refreshing it is to see a show delivered with such professionalism and technical mastery on the PBH free fringe. Magic shows can vary so much - and although this is not specifically magic, many related skills are involved. As a director of magic shows, I knew a lot of what I was watching, and yet I still missed many moments. The content of the show, leading towards the sensational finale was masterfully conceived. If I was to criticise in any way, I would say that a little more attention to transitions and technological management would have aided the flow and pacing of the show towards the end, and that sometimes the music choices were a bit sentimental. However I particularly enjoyed the opening demonstration with the manikin, which was so beautifully performed that it verged on dance.
Pete Firman: Trickster
Peter Firman's quick fire humour and clearly identifiable attitude to magic is always a winner with the British audience. He is clearly an experienced entertainer and knows how to work a crowd. Last year's production of 'Scoundrel' was one of the best I saw at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. His new show, 'Trickster', is certainly entertaining, but not as strong magically as last year's effort. Routines such as the chair suspension and 'Middlesborough' version of Russian Roulette using staple guns are good, and the magic square is a sure-fire ending, but there is nothing particularly innovative in this show. His opening die tube transposition contained many comic moments, but I wasn't sure about it as a choice for his entrance. Overall though, this is strong entertainment and the audience clearly enjoyed it.
Ben Hart: The Vanishing Boy
'The Vanishing Boy' is a story interwoven with cabaret magic and set pieces. It showed ingenuity and a clear attitude to performance, with Ben moving from pithy scripted passages to stand up routines. The combination of styles works, and adds a variety of rhythms to the show. His previous production, 'The Outsider', also showed a good amount of originality and experimentation. This year was a good step forwards in terms of character and technical skill. He has a stronger sense of what his style is. The opening billiard ball routine was deft and well executed, and his thinking behind the Chinese sticks was excellent. 'The Vanishing Boy' is an intriguing name, and you want to know what the ending will be. The story adds a good narrative thread throughout the show, and the finale is visually pleasing, but I wasn't sure how deceptive or stunning it was. Walking in I heard the audience say things like 'will he disappear at the end?' Perhaps if he had, or if there had been a bigger twist, it would have raised the show to another level.
Young and Strange: Delusionists
The bickering couple take to the stage for their biggest show to date featuring four impressive Vegas style illusions. The title of their show is great – and at their best they deliver some great comic interplay. It's fantastic to have a show of this scale and content in Edinburgh, and on the PBH Free Fringe. How they are able to justify the cost of such a production under these conditions, I do not know. I would have been happy to pay a good price for my ticket. If you have seen them before, you will recognise some well used material, but also enjoy the new additions to their act, such as the De Kolta chair, snowstorm, shrinking illusion, and Shahid Malik's version of the sword basket.
However, I can't help feeling that the glamour and glitz of 1970's & 80's illusion, which seems to have become the focus of their show, appeals more to magicians than it does to the public. Yes, moments like the shrinking illusion are visually fantastic, but big boxes with steel edging, glitter, and cheesy music, just doesn't make the couple feel contemporary. The unique aspect of their act is really the relationship they have on stage, and more can be drawn out of that. A keener eye for show structure, transitions, and material that allows their humour to emerge organically, could take them to further heights. From what I could see, however, the audience really enjoyed themselves – and I applaud them both for pulling a show of this scale off at the festival.
© Tony Middleton, August 2014