Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Are you watching the spellbinding DYNAMO: MAGICIAN IMPOSSIBLE?


Which is the best magic show on television? BBC1's Magicians, the series presented by Lenny Henry where celebrities assist illusionists with big stage tricks? ITV1's Penn & Teller: Fool Us, where various British magicians try to perform a trick that will hoodwink the titular American double-act, hoping to win a money-can't-buy performance in Las Vegas if they succeed? No, it's probably Watch's Dynamo: Magician Impossible, showcasing the street magic of Bradford-born conjurer Steven Frayne (aka "Dynamo").

The series owes a huge debt to the 1997 TV specials Street Magic and Magic Man that introduced the world to US magician David Blaine, as it follows almost the exact same template. Dynamo could even be mistaken for Blaine's shorter, younger, British brother—only without the pretentiousness and Messiah complex. We can only hope Dynamo doesn't also start performing ostentatious endurance challenges like standing on an enormous column, being encased in ice, or spending 40 days and nights stuck inside a plastic box.

Magician Impossible's format is unquestionably derivative, with Dynamo performing magic to American and British members of the public on streets, mixing it with cameos from celebrities that range from Misfits actor Robert Sheehan and boxer David Hayes, to footballer Rio Ferdinand and popstar Natalie Imbruglia. But while the show isn't as revolutionary as Blaine's (back when the idea of street magic was new and exciting), the quality of tricks and skill of Dynamo are equally as impressive.

There are often a handful of astonishing moments in each hour-long show. My favourites so far being a climactic sequence where Dynamo walked on water across the Thames (a stunt that became a tabloid news story), or the moment Dynamo stepped behind a jacket held in front of a shop window and walked through the glass onto the street outside. Almost every trick feels fresh and confounding—like the moment he rubbed a woman's wrist-watch tan line and moved it to her upper-arm, or when he balanced a guitar on two chairs, removed one, and the instrument remained suspended in mid-air.

Magic's at its best when it's close-up, personal, and seemingly impossible to achieve given the circumstances (no stage, no moody lighting, no huge props, no sexy assistants). The concept and format of Magician Impossible may be nothing new, and has arrived almost 15 years behind Blaine's trailblazing series, but when the quality of magic is this high it's churlish to complain. Plus, while Blaine's spaced-out weirdness was once a key part of his appeal, he's since turned into something of a pop-culture joke because of his fixation on ludicrous endurance stunts, whereas Dynamo (despite even stealing some of Blaine's quirks, like the phrase "I just want to try something...") is a far more personable and likable fellow.

If you haven't been watching Dynamo: Magician Impossible because it's on a relatively obscure digital channel, you've missed a trick. And boy, is that an understatement!



Dynamo: Magician Impossible / Watch (Virgin 124 & Sky 109) / Tuesdays, 9pm
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