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Morgan and West: A Grand Adventure
Published on Tuesday, 20 August 2013
3

3 stars

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
Comedy
31 Jul, 1-13, 15-26 Aug, 4:15pm-5:15pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Over the past few years, the waistcoated and top-hatted magical duo Morgan and West have built an enviable following here at the Fringe. Their trademark style of Victorian parlour magic stands out well, and their old-world charm is more than enough to melt the stoniest of reviewer’s hearts. But they’ve recognised that their format needs a new twist, so this year they give us something different: not a magic show exactly, but a piece of theatre with magic tricks built in. It’s a bold departure, but does it work? Well – sort of.

The concept’s a good one: Morgan and West have cast themselves in the lead roles of an epic film, depicting their quest to recover an ancient tome from the clutches of an unknown enemy.  But I didn’t feel they quite carried off their vision.  The script told us they were on A Grand Adventure, but the presentation felt altogether more homely than that; I never quite had the sense of a great journey, or of the urgency and (admittedly comic) pressure which underpinned their plight.  And viewed as a piece of theatre, I don’t think it did quite enough to establish the character of the gently bumbling Mr Morgan, whose amiable tendency towards absent-minded folly plays an essential role in the pay-off at the very end.

The magic also suffered slightly from being subsidiary to the plot.  Gone are the complex, elegantly-designed set-pieces which defined previous shows; the illusions are, in the main, much more straightforward, in presentation if not in execution.  Despite that fact, the show is bookended by a couple of stand-out moments.  Towards the end there’s an effective flourish of pure showmanship, which delivers a clever narrative motivation for a classic trick, while at the start we have the opposite: a delightfully small-scale routine which, to avoid spoilers, I’ll simply describe as “the one with the carrots”.

There are some very witty lines, too – especially at the moments when two heroes apparently realise they’re in a film – and a couple of pleasingly eccentric ideas, including the inspired Unusual Predicament Survival Kit.  A trick built round the combination to a safe reminded me of the successes of previous years, and there’s a lovely low-key routine involving sugar which I found both funny and genuinely baffling.  Most ambiguously, there’s a rather sinister puppet made out of top hats, which I utterly loved but which might one day return to me in a nightmare.

After several years presenting very traditional magic shows, Morgan and West have made the right call by trying something different: building their tricks into a proper, fully-plotted, play.  They’ve proved that their idea can work, but sadly, it’s just not the best fit for their particular strengths.  If you’re a fan, of course, you’ll want to see it anyway – just like you’d want to see your favourite TV personality do a cameo in a sketch show.  And I’ll be right at the front of the queue waiting to find out where their sense of adventure takes them next year.

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