Edinburgh Magic Festival: The secrets of success

Kevin McMahon. Pic: Kenny Smith
Kevin McMahon. Pic: Kenny Smith
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PREPARE to gasp in awe. Head down to The Lot on the Grassmarket tomorrow or Sunday (noon or 5pm), and watch in amazement as German magician Johan Lorbeer defies gravity by levitating high above the ancient thoroughfare.

It can only mean one thing, the Edinburgh International Magic Festival (MagicFest) is back for a fifth season. There’s little doubt, Lorbeer’s eye-catching stunt will be a highlight.

The illusion, called the Tarzan Standing Leg, is described as ‘a remarkable, magical and unique piece of living art.’

“And it’s free,” points out Kevin McMahon, director of MagicFest. “The title is a German translation. A little has probably been lost, but the way Johan explains it is this; Tarzan is a mythological character who swings from tree to tree so gracefully that he appears suspended in the air.

“Standing Leg is a direct German translation of an artistic term used to describe a kind of statue - the cupid like figures that stand on one leg, with a bow and arrow. They have all their weight supported on one limb, and that alludes to the illusion itself.”

Next Thursday, at the SkyBar on the roof of the Hilton Hotel, Bread Street, there’s a chance to see McMahon himself in action. If he looks familiar, it could be you saw him on the Channel 4’s Faking It - Penn And Teller taught him much of what he knows over an intensive, four-week period.

“Previous to that, I had a Paul Daniels Magic Set, and when I was 11, learned how to back palm a card,” he laughs. “But the first trick I ever did was pulling a coin from behind someone’s ear.”

It’s that sort of close up magic h will bring to the SkyBar.

“It will be first come, first served on the night. Again it’s free. We understand that not everyone has loads of cash to spend on tickets and it is important for us that they are not excluded from the festival,” says the illusionist.

“On Thursday, people will see close up magic and hopefully that will get them excited about seeing more magic during MagicFest.”

There’s certainly a lot to choose from. The opening gala at the Royal Lyceum this evening may have sold out, but there are still tickets for all other shows, including Scott Smith’s The Imagining (Adam House, tomorrow-Friday, not Monday or Tuesday, 8.30pm).

In this piece, Smith stands at the point where imagination and reality meet and demonstrates how illusion can transform, motivate, and inspire.

“Scott is a magician and an actor,” says McMahon. “I came across him when he won a competition run by David Blaine to make a video that felt ethereal. He made one of him doing magic in an Edinburgh tenement stairwell, cards flying everywhere. He won.

“He does parlour magic with an element of theatre and tells a story as much as he does magic.”

Weaving a narrative into the piece is important for McMahon.

“It’s a trend I am pushing. I have a vision of the way the festival should go, and the way magic should be presented, and I look to programme shows that have thought about this,” he says.

Michael Neto’s Tragic Magic, (Scottish Storytelling Centre, tomorrow-Friday, not Monday, 7pm), is another example of this.

Life hasn’t quite worked out the way Alan Sparks planned. Dreams of Vegas quickly gave way to children’s parties, but magic is the only life he’s ever known and his big break is finally near.

“Michael is this wonderful bundle of energy. He’s from Portugal originally and has great flair and class,” says McMahon. “He’s also been Scottish Magic Champion four times. This is his first foray into the theatrical world, making a show that has magic with meaning, rather than the standard trick, trick, trick sequences.”

Other shows he is excited about include forensic mind-reader Colin Cloud, currently working on a new NBC show, mind reader Luke Jermay, “always a crowd puller”, and David Blanko, who has flown in from the north of Spain.

With MagicFest growing in stature each year, McMahon is proud it is unique in the magic world.

“Unlike most magic conventions, MagicFest is the only stand-alone event that solely focuses on programming shows for audiences, as opposed to industry. And as we get better connected, and our reputation grows, so we attract more and more names from around the world.”

The Edinburgh International Magic Festival runs from tonight until next Friday. For full details of shows and tickets visit www.magicfest.co.uk