ED2012 COLUMN: Time-travelling conjurors Morgan & West challenge some popular stereotypes, and offer some magical recommendations at this year’s Fringe.
“I don’t like magic”. When promoting a magic show, at some point someone will say those four little words. After four years doing magic at fringe festivals, we are more than used to hearing them and have come up with any number of witty ripostes. Though we still find that very idea – well – strange.
I strongly doubt a comedian flyering on the Mile ever hears “No thanks, I don’t like comedy”. The reason? People are used to comedy. They see comedy everywhere: on the TV, in big theatres, in tiny free fringe venues, on the street, in the pub. They are spoilt for choice, and more importantly they know they have a choice. Audiences know that the irreverent style of Josie Long will be markedly different to the quick-fire puns of Tim Vine. They know that the ramshackle chaos of Pappy’s will seem leagues away from the carefully crafted comic stories of Humphrey Ker. Everyone has comedy acts they like, and comedy acts they don’t.
In contrast, most people have never seen a magician in real life. The majority of people couldn’t name you three different magic acts, let alone describe the differences between them. When someone says ‘magician’, it conjures up images of dicky bows and dinner suits, or mullets and giant collars, of girls cut in half and rabbits pulled from hats. They think of kids’ parties and brightly coloured silk handkerchiefs, and often enough they think it’s all a bit cheesy and all a bit tired. Well, good news ladies and gentlemen! Magic has grown up. Much as comedians have forsaken mother-in-law gags and fezzes, so too has magic moved out from the shadow of stereotype into the bright light of originality.
Take a stroll around the Fringe’s comedy and cabaret strands and you will see magic acts of all shapes, sizes and styles. In the Pleasance, the world’s grumpiest magic dragon fires his pet Chihuahua from a cannon on a nightly basis for the entertainment of his crowds. Already a favourite of many, Piff the Magic Dragon lampoons the ridiculous, self-important side of magic, serving it with a healthy mixture of tongue-in-cheek and dry wit. At the same time, Sunderland psychic Ian D Montfort is contacting dead celebrities on behalf of the audience, carrying out past life regressions, and revealing people’s deepest darkest secrets. Tom Binns’ comedy creation not only brilliantly satirises the many professional mediums in the country, but also demonstrates baffling abilities that make the likes of Joe Power or Derek Acorah look like rank amateurs.
Over at the Gilded Balloon you will find (as well as a pair of time-travelling Victorian conjurers) a crazed Swede in a jumpsuit whose chaotic style and crazed manner are a million miles from the doves-and-dinner-jackets of twenty years ago. Carl-Einar Häckner is like a magic bomb, primed and ready to explode – equal parts hilarious, bizarre and anarchic. Not for the faint-hearted.
Nor is magic confined to the big four venues. theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall hosts Magicana, the debut fringe show by Rob James, one of the country’s premier close-up magicians. James’ show fuses classical magic with a sharp wit and a sarcastic, post-modern edge. Zoo plays host to TV’s Paul Wilson, the magician turned con artist ready to fleece you of every penny you have, as well as veteran Ian Kendal, looking back at 21 years of magic at the Fringe.
Sweet Venues also have their share, seeing the return of ‘psychic’ psychologist Rob Bailey in his show ‘Mind Reading For Breakfast’. Bailey’s quiet and utterly unassuming style is the polar opposite of the cocky, know-it-all persona displayed by most mind-readers. Coupled with his penchant for risqué humour and double entendre, it makes his show one of the hidden gems of Fringe magic. These are just a few of our recommendations, and there are many more we’ve yet to see ourselves.
So if you were thinking to dismiss us as a cohort of strange men in ill-fitting suits with rabbits bulging from our sleeves, why not go and see one of the 47 (or so) magic shows at the Fringe and see for yourself? You almost certainly won’t like them all, but that’s the point: just as in comedy, theatre or any other broad genre represented at the Fringe, there’s something for everyone and a huge variety to choose from. And it’s well worth a try.
Morgan & West performed ‘Clockwork Miracles’ and ‘Lying Cheating Scoundrels’ at Gilded Balloon at Fringe 2012.
Photo: Kat Gollock