Magic and Mayhem is a triple-bill of short magic acts, performing as part of the Free Fringe. On the day I attended, it drew a sizeable audience – who were duly entertained with an energetic and varied series of comic illusions.
First up was Ben Cardall, described on flyers as ‘the real-life Sherlock Holmes’. There’s a lot he could play with there, but it’s oddly unexploited: there’s no deerstalker, no pipe, just a few reminiscences about reading the stories. A little more showmanship is called for here, both to establish a character and sell the magic. A trick with a Rubik’s Cube was profoundly unimpressive: either he’s cheating in the obvious way – by peeking out from the bottom of the blindfold – or else we need a bit more proof that he isn’t. Similarly, a prediction sealed in an envelope loses its value when it’s delivered to the stage by another magician. I don’t know whether he actually tampered with it, but the fact that he could have done is enough.
Next came Phil Knoxville, who promised ‘dark and twisted magic tricks’ and, in the main, delivered. Some genuinely impressive sleight of hand leads to an entertainingly gross conclusion, and he turns in a decent comedy routine, as well. The second half is based around a creative idea – that he wrongly believes an audience member is coming on to him, and is trying to put her off – and while a less capable performer could make that seem awkward or even sexist, Knoxville is funny and self-aware enough to carry it off. The final trick is sort-of confusing, and misfired a little on the day I attended, but all in all this is a solid set.
Completing the trio is Ian Harvey Stone, who presented the day’s most intriguing concept. He appears in character as a psychic, channelling – of all people – a 1970s Mexican wedding singer; armed with a guitar and a smattering of Spanish, the stage is set for a decent trick with a clever reveal. His comic inner dialogue with his ‘spirit guide’ is highly entertaining, and he neatly improvises responses to ‘psychic’ questions asked by the audience. It’s all good fun, but you do have to be OK with his character’s faintly misogynistic banter; this is a short piece, and by the time I’d tuned into the irony and got comfortable with laughing at it, the act was almost done.
Overall, I had fun watching Magic and Mayhem, but I did feel it was targeted more at a rowdy late-night comedy club than a docile middle-aged audience on an Edinburgh afternoon. It was a good taster all the same – and Ian Harvey Stone’s act, in particular, is one I’d love to see in full.