If there’s a nagging ‘I know that guy from somewhere’ about Scottish magician Kevin McMahon, it’s probably because you’d seen, but forgotten, the noughties reality show Faking It, on which ordinary folks were given wild career u-turns, and trained to convince experts that they were the real deal. It was there that McMahon first made the leap from scientist to magician under the tutelage of Penn and Teller, and, finding he was good enough to fool Paul Daniels, decided to make the career change permanent. Here he is, ten years on, performing a headline show at the Magic Festival he founded, using his former specialism as material. One interesting career trajectory.
Imagine being shut in a windowless school hall with the entire school in attendance and the heating on full blast. On the hottest July day ever, this is what Summerhall’s Dissection Room is like. People are sweating, glugging heartily from bottles of water, and hoping not to pass out. This has a bearing on proceedings.
McMahon is incredibly deft with his sleight of hand. Even when you can guess what he’s doing, you still can’t see it. Coins, cards, pieces of fruit all vanish from view and reappear behind his elbow, in his other hand, in someone else’s hands, time after time after time, with a pace only a pro can deliver. But the poor guy is sweating buckets under the lights and his delivery is a little frenetic, especially to begin with. At one point, he stalls slightly and it’s not clear if he’s about to pass out, has lost his train of thought or is just waiting for a cue.
Nothing wrong with his magic though. Audience members are enlisted to help and he keeps the whole room with him throughout. Even when a wiseguy disrails a guess-where-the-ball-is trick by double bluffing, he takes it in his stride. Turning it into a competition with said audience member, he proves that there’s more than one way to fool the viewer.
The science that is supposed to be part of the show gets a little lost, although still has its good points. The four minute explanation of quantum physics will probably leave you none the wiser, but the mental arithmetic of his guess-the-number trick will have you smiling at its slickness.
From an audience’s point of view, McMahon’s career change was definitely worth it, despite his mother’s reservations, but there’s a lingering feeling we don’t see the best of him under tonight’s conditions.