Revolution in the Magic Square

Sat 6th – Sun 21st August 2016


Becky Wilson

at 11:19 on 18th Aug 2016



‘Revolution in the Magic Square’ has an oddly ingenious premise. Veteran socialist magician Ian Saville performs a show about Jeremy Corbyn, without ever mentioning Jeremy Corbyn. Saville describes his own recent unexpected election success as President of the Magic Square (a body of magicians), his revolutionary aims, and his struggles to control the unruly members of his “shadowy cabinet”. Punctuated by cheesy magic tricks, the entire show is an analogy of Corbyn’s recent leadership struggles in the Labour Party. As Saville points out himself, it’s probably the most topical show at the Fringe.

The show consists of typical magical gimmicks, some appalling ventriloquism (most notably with a picture of Karl Marx), and the odd flash of propaganda. Rather than ‘Abracadabra’, Saville’s magic words are taken straight out of The Communist Manifesto. His bourgeois cane of oppression magically transforms into the red flags of socialism, and he performs a disappearing act with some tiny nuclear missiles.

The magic tricks are rusty. But Saville knows this, and invites us to laugh at his own failures. When a single clap is heard in the audience, Saville looks genuinely shocked (“What happened? Was that a mistake?”), and he repeatedly feels the need to distinguish between Ian Saville the man, and Ian Saville the character. In fact, is clear that Saville’s own self-deprecating personality is the true star of this show, rather than his cheap gimmicks. Like Corbyn himself, he strikes me as an unassuming, well-intentioned and mildly scruffy man who would be pleasant enough company at the pub.

Any remnants of dramatic tension, usually so important to magic spectacles, completely disappear when Saville interacts with the audience. In one attempt at mindreading, he asks a rather elderly audience member to read a word from a book. Rather amusingly, there is a long pause while we all wait for said audience member to find his reading glasses. It seems typical of Saville’s character that, instead of moving on to another volunteer, he pauses the show, enabling the man to continue rummaging in his bag.

This is clearly evidence of a nice man, but a deeply flawed performer. Saville’s understated style means that the show drags. There is a painfully long, rather unfunny stint with a ventriloquist dummy head: you can see Saville’s lips moving, and he clumsily drops hats all over the floor.

You certainly won’t be in awe of Ian Saville’s magical expertise, but you may well fall for his charming personality and quietly hilarious, original show.


Olivia Cormack

at 14:58 on 18th Aug 2016



Wikipedia describes Ian Saville's act as a form of ‘socialist propaganda’. This is warranted, and at times the show feels more like a humorous, embellished lecture on the recent history of socialism in Britain than a comedy show - although Saville himself is quick to point out that the organisations and people in his fictional world have no parallels in reality. Whatever you say, Ian…

Saville’s endearing performance often comes across more like a teacher trying to get students interested in his subject than a comic one-man show, but that doesn't make the experience any less enjoyable. The lecture is littered with some wonderfully terrible puns that suit my humour perfectly, and Saville is a skilled enough entertainer to smooth over any hiccups that result during audience participation.

The show is slow-paced at points, and I feel it could have used some editing. Saville could also do with a little more rehearsal in his delivery - he has a tendency to repeat himself. His delivery of magic tricks is quietly understated but skilful, but as someone who calls himself a socialist magician, he could do with putting a few more tricks into the show.

The use of the ventriloquist dummy is entertaining, and Saville is not afraid to poke fun at himself when his lips do move slightly. Saville is good at creating characters and at times he feels like a Russian doll, as more and more characters emerge from one another. He is fond of pointing this out, often breaking character to talk the audience through multiple layers of characterisation.

The venue is slightly disappointing, and I think something more could be done with the stage. Some kind of backdrop would be nice, and the side stage area is clearly visible throughout the performance. The lighting seems to go wrong at times, and I think a few more dress rehearsals may be necessary to iron out some of the flaws.

Although this kind of heavily left-wing show may not be to everyone’s taste, I enjoyed myself and found Saville to be an endearing and charismatic performer overall. I think with a few more rehearsals, and a little more magic, Saville could turn this one-man show into something with broader appeal.


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