Magic is growing ever more popular at the Edinburgh Fringe – and for the magicians themselves, that’s both an obvious blessing and a subtle curse. As audiences become better-informed, the same old routines just don’t cut it any more: with each new show we’re looking for innovative new tricks, or familiar ones given a creative spin. In Obscura, Christian Cagigal offers a relatively traditional style of close-up magic, but weaves his tricks into a series of stories that leave them feeling fresh and new.
Cagigal is a natural storyteller and, had his life taken a different turn, would surely have found success as a conventional actor. The characters in his tales are defined by convincing accents, and he delights in the knowingly portentous tone of his stories, which he cheerfully plays up without ever lapsing into melodrama. He develops a quick rapport with his audience too, and is kindness personified when it comes to his “volunteers” – who take turns to sit with him at a table and, on occasion, play a starring role in the narrative.
The magic itself is physically impressive, and it’s executed flawlessly too. With just one weaker exception, there are no self-working tricks or cheap mentalism here: it’s all down to the seemingly impossible playing out before your eyes. Since this is close-up magic performed in a theatre-sized room, there’s a video camera projecting a view of the table onto a screen behind the stage, a device which Cagigal neatly exploits to add some visual interest to his storytelling too. And perhaps most importantly, the magic’s truly woven into the storytelling – more than merely illustrating the tales, the tricks form a part of them.
Just occasionally, however, the material grows repetitive. No fewer than three of the stories involve a deal with the Devil, and cards with blank faces are also a recurring theme. In fact, all of the tricks involve playing cards, or something very like them; with the whole canon of close-up magic at Cagigal’s disposal, I’d have liked to have seen a little more variety worked into his tales.
And, wistfully, I can’t help imagining how powerful this show would be if we really were close up – clustered round some candle-lit table, rather than watching the tricks on what’s effectively CCTV. But perhaps I shouldn’t be greedy. This is a perfectly delightful, wonderfully modest show, from an instantly-likeable performer who has more than one talent to his name. As the show ends, he packs his props back into a tiny box – the perfect metaphor for a show which proves that small things really can be beautiful.