It’s the end of the Fringe, and ‘magician-scientist hybrid’ Kevin Quantum looks lovably rumpled – as though he’d been snoozing with his head on a lab bench, when suddenly he was called to the stage. It doesn’t quite match the razor-sharp image conveyed by his posters, but in truth it suits him better this way. Neon Future is a likeable show from a likeable man – which maybe lacks a little crispness, but brims over with warmth and imagination.
Quantum’s selling-point is that he spent ten years as a research scientist, before making the leap to magic courtesy of Faking It on Channel 4. And his unusual background shows: not so much through the illusions he’s chosen, as through his unalloyed delight in showing us the ideas he’s been working on. Sometimes it leads him down curious sidelines – he recreates an effect he’s seen on YouTube, for no real reason except that it’s cool – but his enthusiasm is always endearing, and at times grows genuinely inspiring.
He’s kindness itself with his audience volunteers – particularly when he gets the youngest ones up onto the stage, and leads them gently through an impressive trick where they get to be the stars. And for the grown-ups, there are plenty of cultural references to enjoy, with Star Trek and The Matrix serving as clever jumping-off points for subtly-themed illusions.
The magic itself is a mixed bag. One or two of the mind-reading tricks seem genuinely impossible (and in fact, deserve more of a hurrah than the modest Quantum allows). There’s a clever innovation around social media, and some truly beautiful special effects linked loosely to a cyborg theme. On the other hand, a trick with a rope falls completely flat – it needs more set-up, so that the climax feels surprising rather than just unexpected – and it’s really not hard to spot how the cup-and-ball routine is done, for all that Quantum gives this ancient trick a novel and distinctive vibe.
Sometimes the theme grows a little muddy, too. ‘The future’ is a big topic, and Quantum hops around concepts as varied as time-travel, matter transporters, and the philosophy of choice. Similarly, while there are a fair few glowing things on the stage, the ‘neon’ of the title isn’t deployed consistently enough to work as a visual theme. Overall the show feels like an eccentric miscellany: lovable in its own way, but lacking the coherence which defines a true stand-out.
Still, there’s nothing to quibble in the final trick, which uses some genuine heavyweight protective equipment to conjure a sense of looming peril. I’m sure it’s very safe really, but the tension is huge, and a couple of ideas inconspicuously planted earlier are brought back to heighten both the humour and the unease. It’s a well-worked finale for a good-natured hour of fun – and for a show which proves that science and sorcery can live happily side-by-side.