Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Revolution in the Magic Square

Ian Saville

Genre: Cabaret, Magic and Mentalism, Solo Performance, Solo Show

Venue: Theatre Arts Exchange (Venue 116)


Low Down

“A show with magic. Chance has unexpectedly propelled veteran socialist magician, Ian Saville, to the leadership of the Magic Square. Will he be up to the challenge? Can socialist magic inspire a mass audience, or will it always be just a protest movement? Will Saville have to compromise his principles to get moderate magicians on board? Will the plots to get rid of him succeed? How will it all end?”


Ian Saville is a rare kind of magician – a socialist magician. At the start of his show he offers us a Wikipedia definition of socialist magic that isn’t exactly flattering. He responds with: “whereas David Copperfield is content with little tricks like making the Statue of Liberty disappear, I aim at the much more ambitious goal of making International Capitalism and exploitation disappear, although he has not yet succeeded.”

And any online definition certainly doesn’t capture the simple genius of what he does. My son learned about money through a previous show of his. Saville offered a rich definition of money through a mix of easy banter, ventriloquism and, of course, magic. He uses magic and other skills to inform and impact on how we might see the world.

Saville is an accomplished magician, ventriloquist and also an academic. I mention these things because his latest offering at the Fringe is rooted, not only in magic, but also in a range of other skills. His material is intelligent, his skills as a performer impressive and often breathtaking; he is a more than capable comedian and raconteur, and he is a bit of a legend in the world of stage magic. Saville also fuses all of this together and adds it to storytelling that creates a narrative, that explains the current woes in the Labour Party more clearly, wittily and wisely than anyone one else I’ve met has ever succeeded in doing. He creates a dialogue using metaphor, a few well placed gags, a conversation with both audience and his own material, and doesn’t resort to clunky polemic.

Running at just over an hour, Revolution in the Magic Square puts Saville into the shoes of Jeremy Corbyn without ever mentioning him! This is a parallel world that clearly points to our own through playful, cheeky and often profound metaphor.

Now, the rest of this review is forbidden from telling you in any detail what happens in the show because it would spoil the fun. What I can say is that this multi-skilled artist takes us successfully on a journey – one that is fascinating, informative and very funny. There’s physical comedy with props, classic magic tricks, transformed and renewed by the narrative, there’s a conversational style that drops formality in favour of accessible chattiness. There’s ventriloquism, mathematics and even a bit of mentalism.

On a bare stage (apart from the trolley for the tricks and some props), this beautifully crafted show is really centred on Saville himself. He steps forward and conversationally sets himself up as both himself and a character he is playing in a fictional story. He challenges the traditional rules of theatre, dipping in and out of set routines and improvised informality. He’s enjoying himself and that is infectious. The emerging tale is witty, the magic and other routines have been designed to serve that narrative, explain ideas and also just wow and entertain us. This is cabaret theatre and narrative, able to laugh at itself and poke powerfully at the world we live in. We get a few history lessons and moments that reveal Saville’s own dissatisfaction with the current political landscape. But that is never overplayed.

The audience loved it, as did this reviewer. Though it felt slightly too long, this is a man who knows how to hold an audience. There was plenty of laughter but I also felt we left the venue smiling, frowning at the world, enriched and entertained. This is a unique magic show on the fringe and not just a magic show – a few important lessons, a tale well told, and plenty of important questions buzzing around our heads. Saville is the head of the Magic Square, but not everyone wants him there. He gets my vote. A must see show.