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An open letter to reviewers of magic shows

Five Star ReviewIt’s almost time for the Edinburgh Festival. Although I’m not performing there this year, it got me thinking about the inevitable reviews that magicians will get.

I admire all the magicians that are brave enough to take a show to a festival. It’s very easy to be safe and just perform at weddings and corporate events with close up magic, but much harder to put together an hour of material and have that looked at under the spotlight of the arts industry. Most magicians think they are god’s gift to magic because they get great reactions at the wedding breakfast – do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of them. Performing a show to a paying audience who have chosen your show out of the thousands on offer is a different thing altogether.

However, one problem I have is that of the reviewer. No one likes a bad review (and I’ve had a few of them) – but that isn’t the problem. It’s the language they use. My main bugbear is the use of the phrase ‘familiar tricks’. This is a phrase that’s used in all bad reviews of a magic show. It’s the reviewers lame attempt at saying that he/she knows about magic and he/she’s seen it all before. It actually does the opposite. It really says that the reviews knows f all about magic but has seen a couple of card tricks and that one where the rings link together.

You see, in magic there are only around 7 (some magicians think there are more) different types of tricks – Vanish, Appearance, Levitation, Penetration (hello misses), Transportation, Mind Reading, Restoration.

So for instance, if a magician takes a ring and makes it vanish and then it appears inside a lemon, that’s very similar (or familiar as a reviewer might put it), to say vanishing a card and making it appear in a ball of wool. It’s a bit like criticising a singer for singing certain notes or a comedian for talking about family, transport, everyday life. Or to take it further, complain that a comedian is saying a thing and then surprising you by saying a different thing than you expected at the end of a sentence.

The idea is to take those tricks and perform them with a different personality, charm and angle to other people. If a magician goes on with the Bandana/Banana routine (well known hack routine any magician can get laughs from) then the term ‘familiar’ could be fairly used. If it’s a card trick that the person has never seen before and performed in such a way that is unique, it’s very unfair (and ignorant) to say it’s familiar just because it uses playing cards.

I once had a review that said he was a “venom macerated magic hating judge” (I had to Google ‘venom macerated’) and that he hated magic and my show hadn’t changed that. There is a reason I don’t review Opera – I don’t particularly like it so any review would be redundant. Guy Hollingworth performed a show called The Expert at the Card Table.  He had a review “Hollingsworth’s tricks aren’t particularly complex or gimmicky”. Well Guy is probably one of the best close-up sleight of hand performers in the world. I can absolutely guarantee that Guy’s tricks are extremely complex.

If you are reviewing a show and know nothing about magic, it’s fine. I won’t respect it, but it’s fine.

And at least try to make it read less familiar

Alan Hudson