Strangers: Mindreader is a spin-off from Strangers: A Magic Play, a show from a couple of years back which successfully combined stage illusion with short theatrical vignettes. This version is different: just one performance fills the whole hour, and while there's a thin veneer of back-story, what we're watching looks like a fairly conventional magic show. But in the world of illusion, of course, nothing's ever entirely the way it seems.
Performer Joe Strickland has developed an interesting stage persona. Long-haired, likeable, but ever-so-slightly earnest, he reminds me perhaps of a louche college lecturer. But he forms an easy rapport with the audience – connecting readily with the volunteers he calls onto the stage, and guiding them confidently through the series of mind-reading tricks that form the core of his show. The tricks aren't ground-breaking but they're carried off well, and all tie into the general suggestion that the man we see in front of us just happens to possess second sight.
Strickland has a story to explain his apparent powers: the tale of a voice that's shared his head since childhood, narrating other people's thoughts and predicting future events. His explanation of where that voice has come from is passed over rather quickly – a shame, as it's an intriguing idea, which could be eked out across the whole show. But it does lend the mind-reading magic a distinctive tone, built more around rationalism than woo-woo. Strickland often offers reasons why particular stunts are "easy" or "hard", and it doesn't take much effort to suspend your disbelief and accept the rules of his world.
A few of the tricks could use a little more pizazz, particularly when it comes to selling the dramatic conclusions. As it happens, I was the audience volunteer involved in the final flourish, and I was acutely aware that I was delivering that last hurrah from my seat at the back of the auditorium; they could usefully give more thought to the showmanship, to the techniques of cueing their volunteers up for a sharp and satisfying reveal.
But there's another type of surprise to look forward to – because this is all building up to something, something more than you'll find in a straightforward magic show. The denouement does demand a little indulgence, as it delivers a fair amount of self-referential introspection on the nature of performance itself. But the twist is unexpected, and there's a clever metaphor to wrap the whole thing up as well – a connection back from the make-believe world of magic to a truth worth telling about our everyday lives.
If you're simply looking for a conjuring show, there are flashier alternatives available at the Edinburgh Fringe. But for magic with a story – and a meaningful message to share – Strangers: Mindreader does the trick.