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Lewis Barlow - Close-Up Magician
Published on Monday, 24 August 2009

I have a real soft spot for stage magic - I must have spent too much time watching Paul Daniels in my youth. With this charming and hugely impressive show, magician Lewis Barlow is returning the genre to its roots; there's just him, a table, and a briefcase... and some truly extraordinary sleight of hand.

The routines which impressed me most were, I think, the simplest ones: making three silver coins appear, disappear, and transfer from hand to hand; or, standing alone in a spotlight, ripping up a piece of paper and then restoring it to its whole. You've probably seen all this before, but Barlow's stripped-down presentation made the familiar amazing. There were no stunts or gimmicks to cover up a quick dip into his pocket; there was nothing up his sleeve, because he had them rolled up to his elbows. I just have no idea how he did it all.

Some of the later card tricks had intriguing twists, too, lifting them above the obvious and making them truly bamboozling. But the possible highlight of the show is a complex sequence with cards and coins, which move inexplicably from place to place under the very eyes of two volunteers on stage.

There is, as always, a "but", and here it comes. Barlow began his act by announcing "I'm not funny", and I'm afraid he's right. Don't get me wrong: he's amiable, engaging, and a lovely man to have stand in front of you for 50 minutes, but he doesn't command the stage. The patter was stilted at first and, tellingly, Barlow seemed most relaxed when he was talking to his volunteers one-to-one.

The audience didn't seem to care, though - and I'm not completely sure I did, either. This is in every way the antidote to the traditional Fringe magic show: the showmanship's replaced by brain-fuddling skill, and the small venue means you get to watch it all up close, without distractions. And despite sitting at the front and watching like a hawk, I really don't know how any of it was done. So should you go to see it? Yes, Paul.

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