This stylish, well-themed magic show taps into a particular strand of Victoriana: the fascination with clairvoyance and contact with the dead. Our host for the hour is Sylvia Sceptre – real name Careena Fenton – and it's never quite explained whether she's a medium, a spirit guide, or one of the deceased themselves. But whatever her role, she's a bright and capable character, filling the crypt-like performance space with both wit and conjuring skill.
The magic is well-worked, and at times genuinely befuddling; there's an emphasis on mind-reading, as befits the theme of seeing the world from the other side of the veil. Fenton is kind and generous with those she gets up on-stage, always understanding that it's her job to make her volunteers look good, and she has instant in-character responses to the minor distractions of a free-festival venue. A couple of the big set-piece tricks are really quite similar to each other, but there's enough of a twist in their presentation that I'll let that point pass by.
Some humour is provided by an invisible psychic cat – if you've got the imagination, Fenton's patter and performance will make you believe it's really there in the room – and there's a stonker of a prop hiding under an intriguingly-draped tablecloth. The background music's well-judged too, striking enough to set the atmosphere, but used sparingly enough that it doesn't become intrusive.
The slight disappointment, for me, is that the distinctive tone hit at the start and end of the show isn't carried all the way through. The opening story is deliciously creepy, with its tale of a gothic mansion and hand-prints in the soot; and the ending segment returns to the theme, with its selection of deathly memento mori. But what comes in between is more overtly comic, and accordingly less memorable. The story at the start ties into the magic beautifully, and I'd have loved to have seen that initial narrative continued throughout the show.
Nonetheless, Phantasmagorical stands out among the plethora of magic shows at the Edinburgh Fringe – for its strong and consistent characterisation, and the value that's added by its slightly-spooky theme. There's nothing in here which will scare you, but there were times when I felt a pleasant tingle in my spine. Entertaining, polished, and recommended.