Descending into the bowels of Cabaret Voltaire beneath the streets of Edinburgh you are welcomed into an old wine cellar by the enchanting Sylvia Sceptre*. Adorned in Victorian dress and holding a lamp Sylvia is the ideal host for the macabre magic and spiritually inspired mind-reading that is about to commence.
Despite the show starting at just past noon, which as far as we’re concerned is about as far from the witching hour as possible, Sylvia and her ‘henchman’ [sound and light tech] set a rather eery atmosphere by having every controllable detail in this free venue covered. Haunting music plays softly in the background masking the sound of distant hand-dryer, cloth covered apparatus present a chilling mystery on stage and the musky, perhaps resident, damp odour of Cabaret Voltaire’s cellar begin to sell the illusion of supernatural existence. And then it begins.
Wonderful storytelling unravels Sylvia Sceptre’s past and present whilst magical effects are employed to varying degree to provide proof of spiritual activity. And although impressive, some effects could have been better placed throughout the show to heighten audience response. This is a minor adjustment though as cleverly thought out mind-reading effects are transformed into larger, more mystical pieces that would fool even the most keen eyed conjurer. Sylvia’s quick wit is worth noting as she gloriously breaks character on a number of occasions to correct for inaccuracies caused by her fleeting spiritual powers (obviously). However, character also breaks unnecessarily, as the inner performer strides forth from within Sylvia to deliver a cheeky pun or sexual innuendo that although gets a few chuckles, chips away at the seance like atmosphere that she has worked so hard to create during a Midday show.
It was in the latter part of Phantasmagorical that Sylvia’s creativity shone through. The spirit of her dead pet is called upon, to much amusement of the audience, but the laughing promptly stops when Sylvia welcomes him to the stage to perform the most impossible of all the demonstrations. It was during this phase of the show that Sylvia’s character and on stage rapport with both her volunteer and ‘spirit animal’ was apparent and it filled the room with equal measures of wonder and humour.
Like the fine lace gloves that Sylvia wears throughout, Phantasmagorical sports a few holes. Although nothing major, it felt at times like the audience were expecting more from the final reveals within individual acts and of the show itself. There could be more oompf, more drama, darker stories and a final twist to capture ones imagination. This show won’t have you running for the exit but it will send the occasional chill down the unsuspecting spine.
In essence, Sylvia has woven together a series of entertaining and enchanting stories with skillful sleight of hand to create a show that is as much about the experience as it is the magic.
*Sylvia Sceptre is a character created and portrayed by magician Careena Fenton.