12 July 2013

Magic Festival reviews

In 2008, The Australian Institute of Magic founded The Melbourne Magic Festival. There are 40 shows at this year's festival, at the Northcote Town Hall, and many are sold out.

Who doesn't love magic and I've never seen this town hall so crowded with happy punters.

During the day, there are plenty of school-holiday shows and at night there are family shows and ones just for adults.

The full program is at melbournemagicfestival.com.

(And yes, some serious wand waving needs to be done to make the website easier to use.)

Beat the Cheat
Nicholas J Johnson and Ben McKenzie
11 July
Northcote Town Hall
to 13 July

Giant dice, a community chest full of secrets and a board game big enough to walk on! Cool.

BUT to win, you have to beat Nicholas J Johnson, Australia's honest conman, magician and self-confessed dirty rotten cheat. It's not as impossible as it seems, especially as host Ben Mackenzie (who can quote the Dungeon and Dragons rule books) might be on your side.

The audience is split into two (I was on the Not Red team) and individuals play for the team (I would have volunteered if Scrabble, Mastermind or Mousetrap had come up). There are dozens of games that are chosen by the air toss of giant dice and Nick knows the rules for every one – and how to bend them.

With magic, games and nerdiness, Beat the Cheat is more fun than Star Wars Angry Birds or a Hungry Hungry Hippos marathon. And it reminds us that games are so much better when you play with real people instead of a screen. Who wants to come around and play Monopoly?

PS. The Not Red team lost by one point because a Red team member realised that it would be ridiculous to not cheat.

In Dreams
Tim Ellis
11 July
Northcote Town Hall
to 13 July

Magic shows are often put in their own category that brings up images of RSL clubs, kids parties and men in capes with awkward young women in sequins. A trip to the Melbourne Magic Festival will banish such regressive and dull thoughts (or at least restricted them to RSL clubs), because this festival is full of magicians and artists who are letting the hat rabbits run free and taking illusion to far more interesting places.

Tim Ellis is the Artistic Director of the Melbourne Magic Festival, he's won prestigious magic awards and is presenting two of his own shows at the festival.

If you're s a grown up who's stopped believing in magic, his 9 pm show, In Dreams, could change your mind.

In Dreams is about unrequited love and never giving up. Ellis is silent and bare foot as he tells a simple and heartwarming story about being in love and losing that love. He uses the same tricks that are seen in most shows, but adds original twists and their place in the story is more important than the illusion.

The result is a personal and moving story of heartbreak and hope told though flawless magic and the kind of love that defies illusion.

Make your parents disappear
Luke Hocking and Alex da la Rambelje
9 July 2013
Northcote Town Hall
to 12 July

It's tough to argue with a 5-year-old, but I have no reason to disagree with my theatre companion, Ella, who thought the best bit of Make your parents disappear was when they "went outside for no reason", but generally thought it was "really good".

So good that she convinced her mum that she needed their magic book so she could learn some tricks at home and impressed me all afternoon by pulling a plastic pink ring out of my ear.

Magic rocks! Luke and Alex are best-known for their adult shows as two thirds of A Modern Deception, but once they were in grade 5 and grade 3 at magic school and didn't want to go to bed when their mum told them to. They know some tricks, but need something spectacular to keep them out of bed. Luckily the audience suggest that they could make their parents disappear!

As the kids (3–10) sit on the ground and the groan ups sit on chairs, Alex and Luke need help from the audience to do their tricks – and they tend to attract an extremely talented audience – without forgetting that those up the back need to be entertained and are usually determined to see how a trick is done. With these two, they might start believing that it really is magic.

Make your parents disappear is super fun and magictacular. I'd go so far to disagree with Ella and say that it's "really, really good".

The Lucian Swift Chronicles: A tale of magic in Melbourne
Barking Spider Visual Theatre
6 July 2013
Northcote Town Hall
to 6 July

The Flinders Street Station lost and found room used to be in the clock tower. Here collected bags, boxes, brollies and cases that were lost by travellers coming to and leaving Melbourne. Some were united with their owners and some were left to collect dust, unable to tell their story because their person was missing.

A young woman looks through the lost and found treaures. We don't know if she's looking for something she lost, but she finds an old case that belonged to Lucian Swift, the Gentleman Trickster. Trying on his tails and top hat, she discovers his secrets and releases some of his stories that were lost and hidden for so many years.

With alchemy akin to ice cream and sprinkles, magician Jo Clyne worked with director Penelope Bartlau and members of Barking Spider to create this captivating show that combines magic with story and sends love back though Melbourne's history.

It's festival run was short, but let's hope that we see it again – and how amazing would it be to see it performed in Flinders Street Station.

PS. Until seeing this show, it hadn't occurred to me just how many magicians are men and was told how difficult it is to buy magic props for women. Hmmm.  To help fix this balance, I've already taken a 5-year-old girl to see a show and she's promised to show me a trick the next time I see her.

Lucien photos by Sarah Walker

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