I had seen two shows by John Henry Blackwood in 2014, so obviously I wanted to see his latest. As with Séance, this has him presenting one trick across the length of the show along with others, but here the theme is time travel.
As mentioned elsewhere, I can be a tough audience for magic shows, but here although I can see that the central trick is probably a couple of forced choices, it carries a significant element of risk – if a volunteer doesn't behave, the trick will be exposed – and is done extremely well. The supporting tricks, including those involving a tiny plunger and some screamingly obviously marked cards, are also done flawlessly.
Very definitely recommended.
Walking back to a multi-stage venue and using the 'what's on here, starting now?' method of picking what to see, I ended up being the audience for this spoken word piece on relationships and why watching too many RomComs is not necessarily good in terms of trying to live up to 'movie love'.
It needs the ability to pay attention, but rewards that nicely with a story that is not overwhelmed by the louder shows next door. I smiled in recognition many times and laughed several times.
I was pleasantly seduced into staying for the next show in the room that How to Talk to the Dead had been in by Iain Smith's leafleting and chat as the audience left.
He's a location manager in the UK film industry – we chatted about somewhere near to where I used to live in London that's often used as a location – and the show is basically him doing nice chat about his 'real' job. Almost no names are named, with the exception of Rupert Penry-Jones, and 'nice' would be the one word summary of the show.
Ash Pryce is a magician and skeptic with two main shows this year on debunking frauds who claim mystical powers but who are doing it the same way he does: cheating, aka 'magic'.
This one is on communicating with dead people, and covers the history of spiritualism from its invention in 1848. As well as the obvious cold reading (throwing out guesses until something sticks – people will remember the hits and forget the misses), it also includes the Ouija Board (originally presented as a game rather than any thing serious), ectoplasm (a wonderful demonstration) and all the rest of the fake medium repertoire. Most of it is explained, but a highlight isn't: trepanning done via the nose. Don't try it at home, but do see it being done.
I have been extremely impressed with Nicole Henriksen before. This isn't the same sort of delightfully weird show she's done before, and is doing again in another show this year, but a more serious piece about her work as a stripper.
It includes her shedding her clothes, all of them, in a series of dance interludes. The first laughs of the show come when the queue of people waiting to get in are warned that the show includes 'full frontal nudity': clearly it's what some of the audience come for.
But what they get is more than that. The start talks about how she got into the work and her first steps in it – the sort of stuff that sex workers get asked, a lot. The combination of this and seeing her in very high 'stripper heels' meant it took me a few minutes to banish previous experience of her. They affect how she moves and before long, they're one item of clothing on the floor.
For me, the show started to soar when it moved onto people's reactions which include 'what if something happens' as a polite way of saying 'what about the risk of rape?' This leads to a wonderful section on the problems of an approach that effectively says 'let it be another woman, not you' rather than being 'no-one should be raped, regardless of work, clothes, behavior…' It's followed by an equally good criticism of the sex work hierarchy – escorts will disagree with their position relative to strippers, but it's very much there with brothel workers and street workers being at the bottom of both lists.
The other questions sex workers get asked are about the effects on relationships and mental health. Both get covered in the final section, including an aside that should surprise no-one and talking about anxiety in a very open and moving way.
'Beyond superb' was my two word summary immediately afterwards.
The title is great, but could Ben Dali's hypnotism show live up to it? It depends on the audience and who volunteers.
Looking around during a relaxation exercise for the whole audience involving him suggesting one arm floats up, it's clear that not that many hands are up, so what would the volunteers to be hypnotized be like? Mixed was the answer when I saw it. Of the eight on a row of chairs, one left the stage midway through the main section, but Kim in particular was very clearly 'under'.
The exercises that the seven were put through included a couple of them competing in the Olympics (one was unable to throw a balloon javelin for two out the three throws, but won with the third), translating Wookie, and drawing Ben as part of a life drawing class. Here, each person was told something different. Kim was told that Ben's penis was enormous (and reacted appropriately any time he got near), while one man was told that the penis in question was tiny. Others were told he had his head, but the body of a woman or of their favorite animal…
.. and the resulting pictures reflected those.
4/5 for the show I saw, but at least a point of that is down to Kim.
Life Gives You Lemons
Charming and funny comedy – you might even walk out with a lemon. 4/5
Newcastle Brown Male
I was half of the audience for this – it should have been a much smaller fraction. I am not going to mark this one, but definitely see if he's doing any guest spots.
Erich McElroy's Imperfect Guide to Picking the Perfect President
… not that the American electorate have a good track record. If you are interested in US politics, it's amusing but you probably won't learn anything. 3/5
Welcome to Clown Town – at the Fringe
It probably wasn't the best idea to call a 'guest spots' show that in a venue with lots of kids shows. The Yurt also gets distinctly hot and stuffy by this time if the weather is good. The format means how good it is depends on who's doing it. Before I needed to go, both were good.
Live in the Staff Room
Small room, great show on sex and serial killers. 5/5
Good stand up from two Canadians who also have solo shows. 3.5/5
Jenny Say Qua
Very good stand up. 4.5/5
C U In Court (Cnut vs Fcuk)
Great true story about refusing to be bullied by a big company about a joke logo that wasn't entirely original to them. 4.5/5
A very good mix of comedy and games. 4/5
Sex Hugs and Gender Roles
Definitely in preview, but already good. How great it gets will depend on the guests, but it's a formal that works. 3/5
Late night sex jokes from four guest comedians. 3.5/5 tonight
I liked Nicole Henriksen's show last year, I loved this one's amazing energy and delightfully weird humour. It's an evolution of the previous show, with the same structure of her being some completely OTT version of herself – you can see why some 'skinny white boys' would be nervous about texting her back – and three characters (the misogynist DJ from last year plus two new ones including a cult fraud) and it's evolved into something great.
There's a bit of advice to other performers from Tom Robinson that says 'Anything you do, do big. Don't be feeble or apologetic. Take possession of your performing area, own it, fill the space. .. The essence of great performance is energy, passion and total commitment…' Nicole does it big, making a tiny cramped windowless room feel like a large auditorium while at the same time filling it with those three things.
I saw two other things on Wednesday – longer reviews later, but here are the headlines:
One Man Breaking Bad
One man does all 60 episodes in an hour. 5/5 if you are a fan of the series, but a waste of time if you haven't seen it.
Ten Seconds With The Pin
Two men do some of the best surreal sketches since Spike Milligan. 4/5
Kevin McMahon was a physicist until ten years ago when he went on the last programme of the 'Faking It' TV series and, after four weeks training, successfully convinced Paul Daniels that he was a professional magician. That convinced him to change careers.
I don't know what he was like as a physicist, but he's a very good magician. I know enough to be looking in the right places at the right times, and sitting in the middle of the front row, I only spotted the trickery some of the time.
As ever, the tricks vary in impact – this was a preview and apparently one that won't be in later shows has recently been spoiled on CBBC, so didn't impress some of the children in the audience as much as it would have done last year. But the card forces lead to a lovely effect at the end.
I enjoyed every minute, as did the almost sell-out audience apparently achieved without 'papering' the room with free tickets. Definitely recommended and I suspect you'll have to book in advance to see this once word gets out.