Lewis Barlow is appearing tonight as part of the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, a relatively new addition to Edinburgh’s already crowded Festival season. The short festival showcases the bewildering skills of magicians from across the globe, with everything from traditional close-up sleight-of-hand magic to more edgy, modern street magic shows.
He is performing in one of the most interesting and little known theatre spaces in Edinburgh, The Vaults on Merchant Street in the Old Town. Built around the existing architecture in the basement of Augustine United Church, it provides a perfect setting for this kind of show, the intimate size and the steep gradient of the seating ensuring that everyone in the audience gets a perfect view of the action.
From the start, Barlow is at pains to make it clear that the show won’t contain much in the way of comedy or spectacular special effects. Instead, he is all about substance over style, eschewing glitz and gimmicks to bring the focus firmly back on the tricks themselves.
The basic elements of most of the tricks on offer here tonight are familiar to anyone who has seen any magic acts over the past 30 years. Cigarette papers are ripped and then mysteriously reformed, coins appear and disappear miraculously, and improbable winning poker hands are dealt from well shuffled decks. But there is something innately thrilling about seeing these traditional effects performed so expertly at such close range, safe in the knowledge that there are no camera tricks, stooges or video editing involved.
Barlow is engaging and charming throughout, even though he never quite manages to stamp any distinctive personality onto proceedings. Instead, he is happy for the tricks to speak for themselves, pushing each routine to the limit and building to a seemingly impossible mind-reading finale using the Yellow Pages.
For a generation raised on the over-sized feats of David Copperfield and the slick showmanship of Derren Brown, Barlow’s old-fashioned, back-to-basics style might seem a little pedestrian at first. But ultimately few could fail to be won over by the seemingly simplistic but utterly baffling routines conjured up by Barlow tonight.
Run ends 6th July