Magicians are professional liars – but there’s one thing about Kevin Quantum’s big-hearted shtick that I desperately want to believe. At the start of the show, he tells us he’s fulfilling an ambition he’s held since childhood: harnessing the power of science and nature to create a rainbow live on stage. And that’s exactly what he does as his grand finale. First, though, he delivers a highly visual and thoroughly enjoyable magic show, brim-full of warmth and personality.
There are two distinct routes to a winning Fringe magic act: either novel, impressive illusions, or an abundance of charisma and style. This show leans towards the latter. Much of what we see would be more accurately described as special effects than conjuring, and the tricks Quantum does include are generally well-worn ones. But, gosh, those effects are disarming; built around the central themes of colour and illumination, they deliver the same sense of primeval comfort as a set of twinkling Christmas lights.
Quantum himself is disarming as well, energised and loveable, utterly at home on the sizeable stage of the Gilded Balloon’s Debating Hall. He has an instant rapport with his audience and, even though one humorous trick is very much at a volunteer’s expense, the joke feels more kindly than cruel. For me, his style’s embodied by the moment he asked us all to stand up, provided we were willing and able to; there’s a thoughtfulness and consideration to that qualified request that contrasts eloquently with the hurried desperation that defines so much of the Fringe.
So it feels churlish of me to say this, but the rainbow itself left me slightly underwhelmed. That’s the danger of selling your whole act on the strength of a single moment: the reality can only be disappointing when compared to the promise. Yet there’s something almost moving about Quantum’s child-like delight in it, and the subtly-played back story – about the now-deceased uncle he hopes he might have pleased – is a bittersweet counterpoint too.
The theme linking the illusions, about the components needed to create a rainbow, is a slightly tenuous one; we could do with having the connections explained as we go along rather than just summarised at the end. And for a show that talks a fair bit about science, some of its claims are distractingly debatable – unnecessarily so, since they don’t contribute anything to the illusion. Asserting that every rainbow we’ve ever seen involves sunlight, for example, depends on how you define the word "rainbow", and flies in the face of the experiments we all did with prisms at school.
But when all’s said and done, elegant structure and intellectual rigor aren’t really what Illuminations is all about. It’s just a perfectly lovely show with some perfectly lovely imagery, delivered by a perfectly lovely performer. Go and see it, and I promise you’ll have a perfectly lovely time.