Rhys Morgan and Rob West – parlour magicians, Victorian gentlemen, and self-declared “spiffing chaps” – return to the Fringe with another warm-hearted conjuring show, fit for children and grown-ups alike. This time they have a bigger room, a grander set, and their most befuddling set of tricks to date; it’s a show that’s bound to delight their legion of existing fans, and might just win them a few more converts too.
But forget the overblown music and flashy projections which so often define magic in Edinburgh. Here, the emphasis is firmly on the two tail-coated performers, who cordially invite us into their nineteenth-century parlour for an hour of well-mannered entertainment. The set-up may be simple, but the magic isn’t; several of the tricks are multi-layered, perhaps deliberately designed to wrong-foot those who’ve seen their shows in previous years. For me, the cleverest trick comes at the very start – when an apparent feat of memory transforms to reveal an inexplicable, and genuinely surprising, ending.
It’s an intelligent show – at one point, they pause to explain what a paradox is – but there’s plenty of comedy to enjoy as well, ranging from entertaining bickering to quirky visual humour. One particular highlight sees the unfortunate Mr Morgan bundled up inside a series of increasingly contrived devices, designed to remove his five senses one by one. Somehow (and I genuinely don’t know how), he “reads the minds” of a series of volunteers, beautifully ad-libbing the deductive chain which purportedly leads him to his uncanny conclusions.
They could usefully pick up the pace a touch; on the night I attended, the interplay between the two men lacked a little punch, and some of the tricks went on for just a few moments too long. I also found their trademark time-travelling theme a little underplayed this year. It does feature heavily in the detail of the show, but the over-arching narrative – that they’re real Victorian parlour magicians who’ve ridden here on a time machine – is implied more than it’s exploited.
But then again, given their near-cult status in Edinburgh, perhaps they just think that everyone knows it already. I’d rate this Morgan & West’s most mature show to date – and just like that perplexing opening, it works on many different levels. Children will love the kindliness and the simple sense of wonderment, while grown-ups can delight in the characterisation and occasional self-referential irony. And those who enjoy magic as an intellectual puzzle are in for quite a challenge... if you figure out how they do the one with the diary, then for goodness’ sake put me out of my misery and let me know.